When Lisa began feeling anxious about starting a new job, she thought it would pass. When she started to feel anxious about leaving the house, she knew she needed help.
Lisa, 23, is just one of the estimated 140,000 youth in B.C. who suffer from mental health issues, which has become a major topic of conversation in social media and around the workplace, yet services for youth who suffer from mild to moderate anxiety remain sparse.
It’s no wonder that community organizations like the YMCA are trying to create a positive change in these trends. Earlier this year, the Y piloted the YMCA Youth Mindfulness Group, a seven-week program that supports young adults ages 18 to 30 who experience symptoms of anxiety. In the first three months of the program’s operation, they received more than 100 referrals and the interest in the group continues to increase.
The program’s director, Elizabeth Sabine, says she is not at all surprised by the popularity of the program.
“The YMCA has historically been an advocate for youth, providing services for more than 125 years, so we’re used to responding to the needs of today’s youth,” she says. “This program grew out of our youth employment programming, where we noticed that anxiety was a reoccurring barrier to many youth seeking employment.”
The program is already demonstrating astounding results. One hundred per cent of participants indicated that they felt they were better able to cope with anxiety, and that it was no longer seriously impeding their lives.
This is good news for a city like Vancouver where studies show how difficult it is to make friends. Organizations like the Y not only work to create meaningful social connections for youth, but also on reducing the stigma that is often associated with any kind of mental illness.
“The stigma is often the biggest concern for youth,” says Sabine. “By bringing youth together in a supportive environment, we’re able to reduce this stigma, which paves the way for more youth to get the help they need before they become debilitated by anxiety.”
For Lisa, the group support was exactly what she needed to cope with her anxiety. “What was most helpful was the support from other group members and leaders,” she says. “I was able to relate and feel as if I was in a safe place.”
The YMCA was able to pilot the program through the support of generous donors. The long term plan is to continue to seek donor support. “Everyone has been touched by the issue of mental illness,” states Sabine. “Our hope is that donors will see the importance of this programming, and continue to support it.”