Sanitary measures: no yoyo with the mental health of young people, implore doctors

The Legault government is giving the green light to the resumption of extracurricular activities and sports for young people next Monday. Doctors who work with children and adolescents welcome this decision. But they urge Quebec not to stop everything if the health situation deteriorates. The mental health of young people depends on it, they say.

“It has to hold up, says the Dr Olivier Jamoulle, Head of the Adolescent Medicine Service at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center (CHU). [Il ne faut pas tout refermer] in four weeks because the cases are increasing. We will have to manage this in another way and that the schools remain open for good, as well as the sports, for the young people. »

Teenagers weakened by the pandemic do not support the yoyo of sanitary measures (opening-closing-opening-closing…), reports the pediatrician. “These are young people for whom any break in their rhythm is really difficult” to live with, he specifies.

The fifth wave of COVID-19 has hit hard among them. It was experienced “as a step back” and generated distress, according to Dr Martin Gignac, head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “Many young people have not adapted well to the resumption of online classes,” he says. I had referred several of my patients to the first line, to pediatricians, but since the beginning of January, we have had requests for consultation [de leur part]. »

The suspension of extracurricular activities, which serve as an “exhaust to manage stress and negative emotions”, undermines the morale of teenagers, says the Dr Gignac. “It’s as if we were depriving young people of this space where they can free themselves,” he says.

Fear of another mental health wave

Difficult, for the moment, to measure the real repercussions of the last confinement on the mental health of young people. “The experience of two years of pandemic [nous a montré] that, each time we had an infectious peak, we had a wave of psychological distress a few weeks later, explains the Dr Jamoulle. Hindsight [par rapport à la vague Omicron] may not be big enough, but the concerns are high about the impact of all these changes of pace on these young people who are constantly pushed around and no longer have control. »

Many “demotivated” teenagers have become “extremely sedentary”, laments the Dr Jamoulle. “Screen time has really exploded,” he says. It’s a bit the “general demotivation” side that also worries us. »

The Dre Marie-Claude Roy, member of the board of directors of the Association des pédiatres du Québec, welcomes the “very good decision” of Quebec to allow extracurricular activities and sports for children under 18 again. “But we can’t afford a new setback,” she thinks. In the same way that we said to ourselves that we could no longer interrupt school, it is time that we make the same decisions for sports and extracurricular activities. And this is not a whim for young people. »

Sports and extracurricular activities, especially artistic ones, are essential to the development of young people during adolescence, a short-lived “pivotal period”, recalls the pediatrician at the CIUSSS de l’Estrie. “It’s a way for teenagers to build themselves as individuals, a way to seek gratification outside the walls of the house, to bond with peers, to let themselves be guided and inspired by coaches”, explains she.

In addition to being beneficial for mental health, sport allows teenagers to keep in shape and adopt healthy lifestyle habits that they will keep as adults. “I have a lot of patients who have stopped playing hockey and who have gained weight,” laments Roy.

The doctor believes that matches and competitions – suspended until further notice – must resume as soon as possible. “It’s good to develop your technical skills, but what motivates these young people to train as a team, to surpass themselves? It is obviously to be able to play matches. ” The Dre Roy acknowledges that these reliefs will lead to the transmission of COVID-19. But, according to her, it must be accepted, as we do for schools.

The Dr Martin Gignac, he invites parents of young people to get out of “the somewhat negative ambient discourse”. “I think adults should be aware that young people need role models of resilience, not role models of discouragement,” he says. The danger is that, by imitation, there is a discourse that is not filled with hope. As adults, we have the responsibility not to contaminate young people, who may not have the maturity necessary to take a step back and say that it’s only a moment to pass. »

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