Youth Mental Health Town Hall



COVID-19 has affected the world in so many ways, and its interruption to school routines and social networks is having an impact on youth mental health. Programs like the Family Navigation Project (FNP) at Sunnybrook are needed now more than ever to make it easier for families to access vital mental health resources and support for their youth. This free phone and email service relies entirely on philanthropic support from our community in order do what it does best: pair families in the Greater Toronto Area with clinically trained navigators who can help guide them through the complexities of the mental health system to find the most appropriate care they need.
If you missed our live town hall, you can watch the recorded video below.



Host and Moderator: Anthony Farnell, Chief Meteorologist, Global News
Growing up on the West Island of Montreal, Anthony Farnell developed a love for weather early on. At elementary school he remembers spending most of his time looking out the window at developing cumulus clouds. In 1998, his love for weather grew further as he lived through the “Ice Storm of the Century” in Montreal. Anthony brings his weather knowledge and experience to Global News where he recently celebrated his 10th year.

In 2005, Farnell joined Global Montreal’s evening newscast but quickly moved to Global Toronto to become their Chief Meteorologist in 2006. Since then, Farnell has expanded his reach and now brings his weather forecasting skills and personality to all four Global News markets in Eastern Canada, from Halifax to the GTA. He can also be heard giving his seasonal forecasts across the Corus Radio Network.

Panel: Dr. Anthony J. Levitt, MD, FRCP(C) Medical Director
Dr. Levitt graduated from Medical School in Western Australia and came to Canada to train in Psychiatry in 1985. He completed his research training as a Fellow with Dr. Russell Joffe in 1990 and since that time held the positions of Director of Mood Disorders Programs at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and then Director of Mood Disorders at McMaster University, until moving to Sunnybrook and Women’s Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, where he served as Psychiatrist-in-chief at Women’s College Hospital from 2002 to 2011 and Psychiatrist-in-chief at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre from 2002 to 2012. He is presently the Chief of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre and the Medical Director of the Family Navigation Project.

His area of research and clinical interest is in the area of mood disorders and navigation of the mental health and addiction system. He has published scientific articles in the area of treatment resistant depression and bipolar disorder, the treatment of adolescent depression, the treatment of seasonal depression and in the definition and value of navigation for families with a youth with mental illness and/or addictions More recently he has explored new and novel direct brain treatments for depression. Beyond these academic pursuits he has a firm commitment to public and medical education, to improving recognition of mood disorders by health care professionals and to expanding access to care for people with mental illness in the community.

Panel: Troy Maxwell, Chief Operating Officer, RBC Capital Markets
Troy Maxwell is Chief Operating Officer of RBC Capital Markets with global responsibility for all operational and administrative matters of the firm, including optimizing cost base management and financial resources, and leading the response to regulatory change.

Troy is a champion for diversity-related initiatives at RBC and an active member of the community. Since 2009, he has served as the executive sponsor of RBC’s Advancement of Women in Leadership committee, a global leadership forum responsible for driving actions to improve representation of senior women at the bank. Additionally, Troy is a senior advisor for RWomen, RBC Capital Markets’ internal forum dedicated to fostering the development and career aspirations of women. Troy has played a key role in RBC’s annual United Way campaign for several years acting as Co-Chair of RBC’s national Major Individual Gifts Committee.

Panel: Dr. Monidipa Ravi, MD, FRCPC, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Dr. Ravi completed her undergraduate and medical training at the University of Toronto, followed by a residency in psychiatry leading to her general adult psychiatry qualification, and a subsequent fellowship in Child and Youth psychiatry. She believes in the power of working within a multidisciplinary team and has had the privilege of collaborating with many excellent colleagues from psychology, social work, behavioural analysis, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Dr. Ravi specializes in assessing and treating children and youth with a variety of mental health concerns and has further expertise in the treatment of youth who have medical diagnoses in addition to mental health concerns, which can influence each other. She believes in the importance of the surrounding context to a youth’s concerns, including school functioning, peers, and the family unit.

Panel: Melissa Turner, Family Navigator, Family Navigation Project
Melissa completed her undergraduate degree in social work with a minor in psychology at Ryerson University. She then went on to complete her Master of Social Work at the University of Toronto with a specialization in Mental Health. Melissa has a range of experience in the mental health field including working in intensive case management roles and residential settings. In addition to her experience in mental health Melissa has also worked in various roles with families and youth affected by HIV.

Looking for help? A phone call or email is all you need to get started.
The Family Navigation Project (FNP) is here to help young people and their families navigate the mental health and addictions system to find the care they need.

Phone: 1-800-380-9FNP or 1-800-380-9367 Email: familynavigation@sunnybrook.ca

  • Start with learning about COVID from reliable sources so when you talk to your youth, you are using reliable facts. (Toronto Public Health and Government of Ontario)
  • Find a time/scenario when your youth is more likely to engage in conversation care ride, mealtime, bedtime. Make yourself available to listen and talk.
  • Remain calm.
  • Check in with your youth and see where they are at. What do they know about COVID, what they are wondering about, what they are willing to talk about and not talk about, and what conversations do they need to have.
  • Keep the conversation going keep checking in with your youth.
  • Remain calm
  • Keep a routine
  • Help them find ways to maintain social connections
  • Encourage physical activity
  • If you are worried about your child’s ability to cope, seek support from your GP or mental health professional.
  • Some suggestions on how to get your youth to open up:

  • Engage in an activity together your youth might feel more comfortable to share and the conversation might evolve more naturally.
  • Provide an open and non-judgemental space for your youth to connect with you when they are ready.
  • Connect with a healthcare professional to help determine if something else is happening for your youth. If your youth is not open to connecting with a healthcare professional then you can still learn ways to support them.
  • A healthcare professional can help determine if any signs and symptoms that you may have been noticing may be a sign of mental illness or addiction and what treatment/support options to explore.
  • Share with your youth the reasons that you want to be involved in their care.
  • Provide education to your youth around what giving consent for parents to be involved in their care can look like (i.e. let your youth know that they can put limits on what information that they can allow their healthcare professional to share with their parents. Let your youth know that they have the ability to change their mind around consents at any time.)
  • Try not to be judgmental about what you may hear. Try to be open-minded to connecting with your youth in different mediums other than just in-person (i.e. texting).
  • Provide opportunities for your youth to share how they are feeling about returning to school.
  • Prepare your youth for what to expect and how to navigate what school will look like.
  • Be open to feedback from your youth around what is working for them and what is not.
  • Encourage your youth to socialize with their peers in formats that your family feels comfortable with.
  • Talk about coping strategies for areas that your youth might be struggling with.
  • Encourage your youth to reach out to healthcare providers as needed and continue to follow any mental health treatment recommendations already in place. (If going to College/University students can access the Student Wellness Centres.)
  • It might not be possible to “prevent” all mental health crisis’s from occurring, however learning about what mental health illness is and knowing when a youth/young adult is struggling can assist with helping them to get access to necessary support before they are faced with a crisis. Seek out information from reputable sources such as your local mental health centre and hospital websites.
  • Resilience is the ability to recover and cope with difficult situations.
  • Things that contribute to resilience are the presence of stable, supportive and positive relationships, learning effective coping skills and learning self-care.
  • Parents can teach children/youth to develop good habits like eating well, getting good sleep, engaging in physical activity, positive interactions, set realistic goals, and learning to be kind to themselves so that even if things don’t go well they can learn to try again."
  • Youth may present a variety of symptoms or behaviours that indicate a possible mental health concern and these may differ depending on age and stage of development.
  • Some early warning signs may include: increased distress and worry, avoiding friends and family, significant changes to eating or sleeping habits, drinking and/or using drugs a lot - not just the occasional use, lack of enjoyment in activities that used to provide joy, engaging in risky behaviours, irritability or anger that doesn’t resolve easily, sudden and frequent mood changes, poor performance in school.
  • The above symptoms could indicate a more serious mental illness if they are intense, continue over long periods of time, don't seem to be appropriate for the age/stage of development, or interfere with a child/youth's daily functioning.
  • What do to? Don't be afraid to ask your child/youth how they are feeling and let them know what you are noticing.
  • Check with your child/youth's teachers to see how they are doing at school and ask how things are going.
  • Make an appointment with your family doctor - they can help determine if there is anything else going on that might be contributing to your children's difficulties. They can also make a referral to a psychiatrist if there is something more serious occurring.
  • Seek out your local children's mental health centre - many services offer Walk In Counselling appointments where children and youth can be seen in the same day. "
  • We recognize that a navigation service like Family Navigation Project would be helpful in many more communities, including those that are in more rural areas (i.e. northern regions), or in minority and/or indigenous communities. FNP is 100% philanthropically supported and so any expansion beyond the GTA is dependent upon additional support from a generous philanthropic community or from the government of Ontario.
  • However, we are looking at how to take the current FNP model and apply it to other regions and communities. Until such time as additional funding is secured, we are also looking within our own geographic borders. We have rural communities in north-eastern York Region and North Durham Region that may not be aware of our program as well as large numbers of minority communities within Toronto, Peel and Halton where we can further focus our efforts and build strong partnerships with community organizations that understand the minority and indigenous communities the best.
  • Many programs and services have shifted to providing a variety a supports via phone, text and using virtual platforms and are providing a similar range of services including Walk In Counselling, assessment, counselling and support groups.
  • There are some agencies that have reduced some of their services, particularly in-home and in-community supports, however many are continuing to offer regular phone check-ins with families.
  • Residential Treatment services for addiction and mental health continue to operate while implementing covid protocols; this means that admission numbers are reduced to allow for physical distancing (i.e. moving from shared rooms to private rooms).
  • As regions moved into phase 3 of the pandemic many agencies and programs have started to provide some limited ""in-person"" services.
  • There does seem to be an increase in demand for services and so depending on the service or program some families and youth may experience some additional wait times.
  • Some youth may struggle more during covid particularly those who may identify as LGBTQ2S or those who may have strained relationships with family members and being at home may result in more stress.
  • There continue to be phone and text lines available to youth 24 hours/day such as Kids Help Phone, Crisis Lines, and The LGBT Youth Line.
  • YOWs (Youth Outreach Workers) and youth mentor programs through the YMCA, continue to operate virtually or via text and are available to youth who need a more regular contact.
  • Other services that are available include Big White Wall, Bounce Back, local CMHAs, and local youth mental health agencies."
  • There is no doubt that COVID 19 affects the central nervous system (CNS) and anything that “disrupts” or “injures” the CNS (the brain) can result in a wide array of mental health concerns. However, the stress, social isolation and financial hardships associated with the pandemic can also impact one’s mental health and increase the risk of addictions. In fact recent research suggests that the greater the risk of exposure to Covid an individual perceives the more likely they are to experience variety of mental health issues including depression, anxiety and substance misuse."

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