Student Fellowship

Building Resilience: Supporting Youth Mental Health Post-Pandemic

Project Area:

Mental Health and Wellness

City:

Kitchener, Canada

Reporting to:

Manager of Program and Resource Services

The Challenge

According to a recent survey, the percentage of Waterloo Region residents struggling with wellbeing has doubled during the pandemic, with 32% having experienced significant mental health challenges in the past year*. For youth, that figure is significantly higher: it was 67% for student respondents. The sense of isolation and loss of connection that may have existed prior to the pandemic has only compounded over the past two years. Curtailed recreation and social programs, learning remotely, and limited in-person connection with adult allies, coaches, and teachers have all resulted in a disproportionate impact on youth during a crucial time in their development.

Exploring and understanding the short-term and long-term mental health impacts on youth are a key mayoral priority. While mental health is not an issue Kitchener would traditionally tackle, since the city is the level of government that the community interacts with most frequently, city officials feel Kitchener is in a unique position to convene around this work. Though the city’s governance structure means that it is not traditionally resourced or legislatively designated to address mental health, there is an opportunity to demonstrate how Kitchener can support the work of community partners, agencies, and other levels of government to tangibly improve youth mental health. Supported by the expertise and fresh perspectives of a summer fellow, Kitchener is keen to explore the landscape and issues surrounding youth mental health and to inform a potential city response.

The fellow working alongside Kitchener officials will help answer these key questions:

  • What are the established and emerging practices in this space that Kitchener can learn from?
  • What have local partners/agencies and youth networks identified as key gaps in youth mental health?
  • What actions can the city take to modify, innovate or adapt its services to respond to these issues?
  • How can the city support other organizations to enhance youth mental health?

Kitchener strives to apply an equity lens to all its work and sees mental health and equity as interrelated. The social determinants of health and access to services, resources, government, and community supports all impact mental wellbeing. Youth and their families, especially in some of the neighborhoods most heavily impacted by the pandemic, and socially and economically diverse households and communities, have had to adapt the most. Youth have had to shoulder a heavy burden during the pandemic, all during their most formative stages.

This project helps advance the city’s current strategic plan priority of a “Caring Community” and the goal to “enhance people’s sense of belonging and connection by providing welcoming community spaces and programs; better engaging, serving and supporting diverse populations and helping to make housing affordable.” A number of complementary initiatives are underway, including; implementing the city’s Housing For All strategy; understanding and responding to the unique needs of seniors’ sense of isolation during the pandemic; creating an Equity, Anti-racism and Indigenous Initiatives Team with a larger body of equity and community wellbeing work; responding organizationally with an internal Covid action team for staff wellbeing and resilience; and the work of the youth-led Kitchener Youth Action Council, who have identified youth mental health as an important priority.


What You’ll Do

The fellow will be expected to:

  • Analyze survey data on youth mental health (Youth Impact Survey 2021, Children and Youth Planning Table Waterloo Region, Waterloo Wellbeing Survey) to determine relationships and identify key issues and trends in the city.
  • Research leading and emerging practices on what other cities and organizations across North America are doing to support youth mental health.
  • Conduct interviews and develop engagement strategies with local partners actively researching or working in the mental health space (e.g., CAMH, YMCA WorkWell, KW Community Foundation, Wellbeing Waterloo Region, Children and Youth Planning Table, Immigration Partnership), with existing youth networks such as the Kitchener Youth Action Council, and with other local educational institutions/universities to deepen collaborations toward shared goals and actions.
  • Develop a set of concrete actionable recommendations that Kitchener can begin to implement at the local level to address youth mental health issues post-pandemic. There should be an understanding of what Kitchener can do as a city, versus what they can advocate for, versus what they can do in collaboration with partner organizations.

Related deliverables are to be defined in concert with the fellow and would likely include the following: research summaries; key findings and issues analysis; actionable recommendations; a summary report that outlines key insights; and actions the City of Kitchener can take within its mandate to advance work on youth mental health that will make a difference in the community.


What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Data analysis
  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis
  • Design thinking
  • Writing and editing
  • Strongly preferred: experience in health policy, program development, and familiarity with social determinants of health

*Source:

The Loneliness Epidemic

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