Child psychiatrist Dr. Tamara Hinz (MD), an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine, is one of the lead researchers on the USask team.
“As a child psychiatrist, I can see what my patients are going through,” Hinz said. “I think it’s really important to have Saskatchewan-specific data on (the pandemic), so that we can make some evidence-based conclusions about mental health and youth in this province.”
The research brief entitled, See Us, Hear Us 1.0: Mental Health Experiences of Children, Youth, and Families in Saskatchewan During the First Year of the Pandemic, details the results of survey questions answered by children and youth about their mental health during the pandemic. The survey also asked whether they were receiving support, and how they felt about the support they received. The research project is funded by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and Mental Health Research Canada.
Principal investigator Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine (PhD) is an epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. He is also the director of the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) that analyzed the survey data.
“It is quite illuminating to have this data for Saskatchewan (children) during that first year of the pandemic,” Muhajarine said.
“A majority of youth felt that there were more negative than positive life changes,” Hinz said. “A good number of kids felt that the pandemic related to worsening in their mental health. Those responses were unfortunate, but not unexpected.”
Some findings from the survey include:
- Nearly 1 in 5 children had suicidal ideation
- 1 in 10 children reported an increase in self-harm
- 38 per cent of children and youth said their overall mental health was worse since the beginning of the pandemic
- 1 in 4 kids said they needed mental health support; only 13 per cent of those children and youth received the help they needed
- Children from a visible minority family – Black, Indigenous, or people of colour – had nine times the risk of experiencing negative life changes during the pandemic
Hinz noted that mental health services have been a weak spot in the province.
“We know that wait times, even pre-pandemic, are extremely long for publicly available counselling, or family therapy, to see a child psychiatrist,” she added. “We have limited numbers of child psychiatry beds in the hospital. We know that positions like school counsellors have been cut.”
Muhajarine said that educators and children in schools were one of the demographics most impacted by the pandemic. To help inform the content and way the survey was designed, a community panel was formed, comprised of educators, children and parents, and members of community organizations.
“We really did our best to try to make sure that (the survey) was representative of the families of this province,” Hinz said. “To give those families and youth a voice about how they’ve been feeling, and then to translate their experiences to government and other policy makers so we can actually respond to them.”
Hinz, Muhajarine and their research team is currently preparing the next survey See Us, Hear Us 2.0. They hope to recruit children and families living in underrepresented areas of the province. The research team includes graduate students, medical learners, psychiatrists, public health experts, nurses and epidemiologists.
Muhajarine said the ultimate goal of the project is to bring key policymakers and advocates together to have a conversation about children and youth mental health in the province, driven by the evidence and data collected in the See Us, Hear Us project.
“All of this (research) is done to provide some evidence, some empirical data, to compel and drive better policy and better programming to children and youth and families in the province at this stage of the pandemic,” Muhajarine said.
“I think children with mental health symptoms, or illnesses, don’t necessarily have a voice on their own,” Hinz said. “If we’re in a position to hear what they’re saying, and amplify it, I think that’s really important from an advocacy position, and ensuring that we’re not misunderstanding what those needs are.”