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New study to understand mental health of young people

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Daniel Cavanagh (File photograph)

A new study is set to be launched to help to determine levels of adolescent anxiety and depression among young people in Bermuda.

The study will examine how commonplace anxiety and depression symptoms are in young people, as well as their attitudes towards seeking mental help and the resources available.

The survey will form the bedrock of a thesis by Daniel Cavanagh, a PhD candidate and high-school teacher at Warwick Academy since 2019.

Mr Cavanagh said: “From the classroom to the broader community, I’ve seen how anyone connected to adolescent mental health in Bermuda could benefit from high-quality data, especially when we are facing unprecedented mental health challenges.”

The research team, headed by Mr Cavanagh, will invite schools become host sites for the study and have students from Year 7 to Year 13 take part in an online anonymous survey while under supervision.

Information sheets will be given to parents before pupils complete the surveys, and information sessions will be held to allow children and parents to ask questions.

Mr Cavanagh came up with the idea to better help his pupils, particularly those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and offer helpful data to the wider Bermudian community.

He said that little research had been done on youth mental health in Bermuda and highlighted during the 2021 Bermuda Mental Health Foundation’s virtual conference how necessary it was because of Bermuda’s unique geography and culture.

A recent study found that global rates of adolescent anxiety and depression had increased as the pandemic went on and doubled by the end of 2020.

It suggests that one in four young people suffered from depression while one in five suffered from anxiety. These numbers could tally up to about five pupils in a classroom dealing with mental health problems.

Child psychologist Peter Yates said that rates of mental illness in young Bermudians tracked with the worldwide increase.

Dr Yates said: “Since the pandemic started there has been a surge in the mental health needs of children of all ages in Bermuda and in the rest of the world.

“The effects of social isolation, quarantine and the overall stress and adversity related to the pandemic appear to have had a much larger negative impact than the infection itself and especially on adolescents.”

The study will be conducted with Shawnee Basden, a psychologist with the Bermuda Hospitals Board, and will see assistance from Azaria Smith and Sarah Maybury, from the Solstice wellness centre.

Laura Hart and Nicola Reavley, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, where Mr Cavanagh is completing his PhD, will also be involved.

Eloïse Pitts Crick, the executive director of Solstice, said the centre’s team had supported the research from the start.

Dr Pitts Crick said: “Having this data will improve the way mental health professionals assess, care and advocate for adolescents in Bermuda.

“We are excited to support this research as it can help us better plan mental healthcare on the island.”

Sandy De Silva, the executive director of Family Centre, added that the data would help the charity better tailor their services towards the young people and their parents who need it.

Dr Basden, one of the island’s two mental health first aid coordinators, underlined Dr De Silva’s approach, adding that in could shape mental health policies across Bermuda.

She said: “The data collected from this study can inform policy decisions and help practitioners, parents and educators to best care for their young people.

Shawnee Basden, a psychologist with the Bermuda Hospitals Board.

“In the mental health first aid training course, we teach participants to look out for the signs and symptoms of psychological distress, as well as to challenge stigmatic beliefs.

“This research will help us in trying to teach adults how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health in adolescents.”

The study is being supported by the Durhager Family Programme Fund and the Uplands Discretionary Trust.

For more information, e-mail Mr Cavanagh at d.cavanagh@student.unimelb.edu.au or Dr Basden at Shawnee.Basden@bhb.bm.

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Published November 01, 2022 at 7:50 am (Updated November 01, 2022 at 11:12 am)

New study to understand mental health of young people

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