Having a good friend could reduce mental health problems

“People become anxious because they have trouble tolerating uncertainty. One of the features that seem to minimize this is having a secure friend,” said psychology professor at Concordia University William Bukowski.

In response to an alarming increase of mental health issues in younger generations, the Psychiatrists Association of Quebec launched The Connected Alpha Movement, an initiative that encourages the Quebec government to implement a comprehensive mental health education course in the Quebec school curriculum.

The mental health education will begin in primary school and run to the end of high school. The program will focus on teaching students how to manage their emotions and form healthy relationships with those in their close social circles, as well as their communities. Information about the different types, causes and risks associated with mental illnesses will also be provided.

The Connected Alpha Movement will encourage open dialogue, where teachers and the community can participate in the discussion as to what aspects of the program are working. They will be able to provide advice about what social or educational changes can be implemented to help prevent mental health issues from having long-term detrimental effects on students.

Developmental Psychologist and Psychology Professor at Concordia University William Bukowski studies the effects of children’s friendships. Bukoswki’s study has shown that the most important feature of a friendship – the one that is conducive to mental health – is security.

“What we’ve tried to show is that anxiety derives largely from uncertainty, people become anxious because they have trouble tolerating uncertainty,” said Bukowski. “One of the features that seem to minimize this is having a secure friend.”

“So the purposes of the program that you brought to my attention are very much similar to the results of our study: that having strong stable connections are going to function as the antidote to anxiety,” said Bukowski.

Abigail Stephin, a first year biology student at Concordia University said this resource would have been beneficial growing up.

“I feel like if I had somebody that I could have relied on or a resource, it would have helped me in primary school,” she said.

“Alpha” in the Connected Alpha Movement refers to the new generation, born between 2010-25. The program is geared towards those facing the challenges of adapting to an environment pervaded with fast-paced social, economic and technological changes.

At the current rate that stress is affecting youth, there is a concern that there will not be enough resources in the future to support the growing demand for mental health services.

According to The Connected Alpha Movement’s website, suicide attempts leading to hospitalization for youth ages 10 to 19 have more than doubled between 2007 and 2017. Anxiety levels and ADHD diagnoses have nearly doubled in children from grades one to five between 2010-16, according to a study done by the Institut de la Statistique du Québec.

The Connected Alpha Movement showed that students who have participated in mental health education programs resulted in a 13.5 per cent lower rate of mental disorders,  an 11 per cent improvement in their academic performance, and graduation rates among participants is six per cent higher.

Several organizations support the initiative, such as Psychiatrists Association of Quebec, the Pediatricians Association of Quebec and the Specialists in Preventive Medicine Association of Quebec.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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