Lost in Transition
Transitions are a big part of a young woman’s life – the nervous excitement of starting high school, the independence of going to college or university – and these experiences can greatly influence their future. But it can also be a very confusing, anxious time for both students and parents.
We reached out to two clinicians at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s leading hospital for mental health, to discuss how parents can keep youth from getting ‘lost in transition’.
“Young women have relationships with the school, staff and peers, and suddenly they’re going into something brand new. These are key transition points,” says Patricia Merka, a psychiatric nurse in CAMH’s Child, Youth and Family Service with almost 20 years of experience working with youth.
“Any kind of transition or change – even just looking forward to it – is an adjustment, and therefore, stressful,” says Maria Carinelli, a CAMH Social Worker who works directly with youth with mental health issues on coping skills, and helps them navigate the community mental health system.
Tip 1: Communication is Key
“As a parent, you should keep lines of communication open. Ask, and observe,” says Maria. Communication is a two-way street, but make sure to give your child an opportunity to talk, and listen to what they tell you before making judgement calls. “Keep your own anxiety in check so you can really listen, rather than be reactive.”
Tip 2: Teach youth the importance of interpersonal, IRL (In Real Life) relationships
“Technology takes away that important face-to-face contact. It may make it more difficult for them to form real relationships,” says Patricia. Cellphone and technology use in schools is second nature, but forming relationships the old fashioned way is an important skill to teach. “Kids going off to high school or university are forced to make new relationships in a new environment… they need to feel comfortable with going to new people for support.”
Tip 3: Participate when you can
Patricia recalls a recent interaction with her own adolescent son when the topic of the show 13 Reasons Why was brought up. “He wanted to watch the series – which is quite controversial – and he got upset when I told him I’d watch it with him so we can discuss it. He wasn’t thrilled at the idea of watching this show with a parent who works in the mental health field, but we need to be open to the fact that our kids are engaged in a very different world now than [what we experienced] in the past.”
Tip 4: Share realistic expectations
“Think of the impact of media and social media on teenage girls, their self-esteem and coping abilities… You have the young girl who’s trying to compare to [images of] these social media [celebrities], which are half the time photoshopped,” says Patricia. The pressures can lead to eating disorders, mood disorders, and a host of other issues if not discussed and corrected.
“The other thing we forget about is how boys are affected by what they see online, and what they mistakenly expect a girl to be like. We have a long way to go to help our young men see beyond what they see in media, social media, in porn or other things that are easily accessible to youth. We need to help them develop a healthier sense of what relationships are, and about the values of the person compared to what’s presented online.”
Tip 5: Don’t be afraid to get help
There are some warning signs that signal deeper issues may be at play, and when your child is exhibiting behaviours that seem out of the ordinary for them, pay attention and consider getting help. “Parents should be aware of whether kids are starting to avoid doing work or going to class, or are isolating themselves. These can be early warning signs of mental illness, and need to be discussed and addressed,” says Maria.
We spoke to one young woman, Cassandra Arthur, about what it’s like to struggle with mental illness while in school.
“Growing up with a recurring health concern – with no words to explain it – made navigating my way through school a tricky process. The path from childhood to adulthood isn't easy for anyone, but lacking the essential vocabulary needed to explain oneself is a special kind of terrifying. What's wrong? I don't know. Did something happen? I'm not sure. Are you okay? Technically.”
For Cassandra, help came in the form of hospitalization, therapy, and continued outpatient care. She is doing well, although it took a lot of work to get to where she is now.
“The real transition began when I decided to stop focusing on transitions. There are multiple points in life where we come to a hard line in the sand. We are told there are stages and we must complete them in a set time frame. We are told when childhood is over and adult life begins. We are told what order to do school in and when to move on,” Cassandra says. “The problem is, lines are lines and metaphors are metaphors. Life happens at its own pace.”
If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health issue, there is help.
Here are some resources:
- Crisis resources and important phone numbers
- Transitioning to campus life video
- Social media and student mental health: What’s the connection?
- SayingWhen App (iOS) - helps people reduce or quit drinking
- Thought Spot App (iOS) (Android)- helps students find Mental Health Resources in the GTA
- Alcohol and drinking guideline
- ConnexOntario – 24/7 access to health services information