YMCA launches innovative program for youth experiencing anxiety

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Did you know one in four Canadians is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives? Everyone experiences worries and anxiety—the key is to learn how to make sure it doesn’t stand in the way of doing things we care about. That’s why the YMCA has created the Youth Mindfulness Group, a support group dedicated to helping youth who experience anxiety learn healthy coping skills and build new support networks.

Based on the findings of a 2008 study, there is a strong need to increase mindfulness among youth. A staggering 140,000 children and youth were reported as being seriously affected by a mental health disorder significant enough to impair daily functioning at home, school and work. Elizabeth Sabine and Anuschka Naidoo, creators of the YMCA Youth Mindfulness Group, began to notice an increase in the number of youth demonstrating symptoms of anxiety through their work with youth employment programs at the YMCA of Greater Vancouver. Sabine and Naidoo began referring youth participants to external mental health support services, which often had waiting lists up to a year long.

Recognizing a need for additional support in the community, Sabine and Naidoo applied for and received a small grant from the YMCA Innovation Fund. Every year, the Endowment Fund of the YMCA of Greater Vancouver commits funds to encourage innovative ideas from its staff and volunteers to offer new programs or services that align with the YMCA’s vision of building healthy communities. And so, the YMCA Youth Mindfulness Group was born.

The group began in February and will include the support of a Registered Clinical Counsellor. “We hope to decrease youth’s feelings of anxiety and empower participants with healthy coping strategies,” says Sabine. Participants will learn coping skills and benefit from educational workshops, take home resources, and the support of likeminded peers. This pilot program will target youth aged 18-30 who experience mild to moderate levels of anxiety and will meet one evening a week in a safe, friendly environment at Robert Lee YMCA in downtown Vancouver. Participation in the group is free.

This area of work is new for the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, but working with youth is something the Y has been doing for decades and aligns well to the focus the charity has taken. “The YMCA is committed to helping people reach their potential and this group is a great way to help youth do just that,” Naidoo mentions.

Mindfulness appears to be of special relevance to young people in the Lower Mainland. In 2011 and 2012, the Vancouver Foundation conducted a study among young adults that found Vancouver a difficult place to make friends. Young adults aged 24-34 reported the highest rates of isolation with one in four stating that they are alone more than they would like. Friendships and social connection are essential for our well-being and loneliness is connected to a variety of mental and physical health problems. Offering support for youth within a group environment, like the YMCA Youth Mindfulness Group, creates an opportunity for youth to connect, develop friendships and reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness.

The pilot program is currently recruiting participants, but space is limited. To learn more or register for an information session, contact youthmindfulness@gv.ymca.ca or visit vanymca.org.

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