Kramberger: West Island students can access YMCA mental-health program

Y Mind aims to help young people cope with anxiety and stress.

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There never seem to be enough support resources for tackling mental health, but some guidance for local youth is being rolled out this month through a YMCA initiative.

Y Mind — a mental-wellness program geared to help students cope with anxiety and stress — is launching this fall in the West Island, including at John Rennie and St-Thomas high schools in Pointe-Claire as well as John Abbott College in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. Up to a dozen students at each school will take part in a 90-minute session held after classes once a week for seven weeks. Fall sessions start next week, but winter and spring sessions are also planned based on interest.

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The program, which was initially developed several years ago by the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, is an intervention program offered free to young people who may be experiencing mild to moderate anxiety. The YMCAs of Quebec are part of a national rollout of the initiative that is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In-person sessions for teens will also be offered at the Olive-Urquhart Sports Centre, the former West Island YMCA facility on Brunswick Blvd. that was purchased by the city of Pointe-Claire, as well as at the YMCA N.D.G. in Montreal. Online virtual sessions are also offered for young adults (up to age 30).

A pilot project was held last year at LaurenHill Academy junior and senior campuses in St-Laurent, said Roberto Mormina, the local co-ordinator of the Y program.

“Now we’re in full swing,” he said.

Two mental-health professionals will run the weekly session with participating students, Mormina said.

“They’re supporting them on their mental-wellness journey,” he said. “Every session builds off the last one.”

The first few sessions are psycho-education themed, and the final sessions deal with helping students determine meaningful values. The program will offer students different ways of relating to anxiety, so it can have less of an impact on them, and provide them with coping strategies and tools.

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“It’s exploring new ways of thinking about anxiety and how they can then create a path forward for themselves, not just for now, but also for their adulthood,” Mormina said.

Each session contains a guided exercise on how to connect to present moments to deal with anxiety or to avoid self-destructive behaviours. Videos will be shown to reinforce topics.

Y Mind isn’t a drop-in program, and it also isn’t meant for students who have high levels of anxiety, Mormina said.

“We’re not offering a group therapy approach. But being in a group of other like-minded youth experiencing something similar can be very therapeutic in itself,” he said. “The core tool that we are trying to cultivate here, the muscle we try to flex and build, is mindfulness.”

Treating the Y wellness program as an extra-curricular activity should encourage high-school students with low to moderate anxiety to participate, as it will be scheduled after classes end.

After being approached by the YMCA, “we thought it was a great program and we wanted to try it out,” said JRHS vice-principal Mathieu Larocque. “We’re hoping it’s something the students will continue to be interested in and we plan to have another session in the winter.

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“It’s for students who are functional and have manageable levels of anxiety but who need strategies to help cope with that, especially during evaluation sessions here at school or stressful times when they have a lot of academic stuff coming at them,” he said, adding the Y’s program complements guidance counsellor and school nurse services available at JRHS.

It’s striking the level of anxiety that some students have around academics and social media, Larocque said. A new ban on cellphones in classrooms could help reduce anxiety by making sure students focus on class, he said.

“It was causing such anxiety throughout the whole day,” he said of mobile devices. “We just started (the ban), so we won’t know the effects of that until later this year.”

John Abbott hopes to build interest in the Y’s program and integrate it with existing counselling services with its staff of eight, said Meaghan Blake, a psychotherapist in the college’s counselling department.

“Being able to offer a group (setting) is something we really haven’t had officially before, or with an external facilitator coming in,” she said.

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Demand for mental health at the college has increased beyond the levels seen in pre-COVID-19 years, and the reality is there is never enough psycho-therapy support options, Blake said.

“Fall tends to be quite challenging for students when it comes to mental-health crisis that could be fairly high levels of anxiety, or it could be depressive symptoms. It could often mean suicidal ideation,” she said.

Blake pointed out the college guides students with self-care practices, including two “energy pods” to do mindfulness activities to deal with stress. It also has a peer-support program, which pairs a student trained in active listening with someone seeking help and is supervised by the counselling department.

“We saw Y Mind fitting in as the next level, for students presenting with mild to moderate anxiety,” she said, adding having a dozen students in the Y program will free up counselling or therapy resources.

Hopefully, the Y’s initiative will raise awareness and play a role in overcoming the stigma too often associated with mental-health issues and resistance to seek support.

For more information or to fill out an online participation form, visit www.ymcaquebec.org/en/YMind.

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