Manitoba mood disorder association takes youth-focused program online due to COVID-19

With the added stress and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba says it’s looking into new ways to reach people who need its services, especially youth.

Executive director Rita Chahal told 680 CJOB an artistic program that was able to run for a short period of time this summer, is back in virtual form.

“What we’ve been hearing from the community, and kids who would often connect with us… was that many of them were dealing with a lot of isolation and depression, anxiety, some forms of bullying, (issues related to) gender identity,” said Chahal.

Read more: ‘A pandemic of its own’: How COVID-19 is impacting mental health

“We were hearing from parents of newcomers that the kids just weren’t fitting in and were feeling culturally isolated and having difficulty in adapting.”

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Enter the MAD camp program — music, art and dance — with a focus on mental health. Chahal said it gave youth the opportunity to discuss their issues and concerns through creativity.

“It was a great success, and we ended up having 47 kids go through the program through the summer. We found that parents and participants of that program continued to ask us, ‘can we continue this?’

“Of course, due to the pandemic, we’re not able to offer the same on-site service, so we decided to do it virtually.”

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The program’s youth co-ordinator, Dana Lance, said converting the MAD camp to a virtual format presented a lot of challenges, but that at this point, the program is set up in a way that they can interact with the kids in a similar way as if they were there in person.

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“It’s a big change for these youth, who are going through these crazy times,” said Lance.

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“I just believe no matter what, the kids are able to connect with me and dance with me online, virtually… even though we may have some technical difficulties.”

Lance said the hour and a half long program allows her to work with the participants, ages 13 through 17, on expressing themselves through dance, but also an opportunity to check in on them and see how they’re coping with life during COVID-19.

“My job is to not only instruct dance online for an hour and a half, but also talking to them about how they feel about dance and how they’re able to do this throughout these crazy times,” she said.

Chahal said there are obviously a number of factors that need to be incorporated into the youths’ wellness — everything from diet to exercise — but the program is one small way they can look at themselves and feel good, knowing there are other kids out there using the platform, so they don’t feel so alone.

Read more: Psychologist, comedian talk COVID-19 anxiety and ways to beat it

According to research data released by Leger in late October, 24 per cent of Canadians surveyed said their mental health had declined since the first wave of the pandemic.

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The company had been conducting weekly surveys across the country on how people have been feeling since the start of Canada’s coronavirus crisis in March.

Leger’s executive vice-president Dave Scholz told Global News Canadians’ biggest source of stress of anxiety was “when (the pandemic) will end,” and that people have experienced “a loss of control to a certain degree.”

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