Connectedness: A Strategy to Combat Anxiety & Depression

Anxiety and depression are increasing among British Columbia youth, and services are inadequate to meet demand. Evidence supports the Network’s initial priority focus to address local youth mental health (anxiety and depression), while demonstrating the need for a preventative response (i.e., connectedness strategies).

The Child & Youth Health Network aimed to improve health and well-being of children and youth, with an initial focus on youth mental health.

Currently, 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from a mental illness; however these rates are expected to increase to 1 in 2 experiencing a mental ailment by 2041. This is based on extremely high rates of mental disorders in those aged 20-29 years (The Mental Health Commissions of Canada, n.d.).

Nationally and locally the two most prevalent mental ailments are mood and anxiety disorders, with 10% of South Island youth (Grades 7-12) reporting anxiety, and 10% reporting depression (McCreary Centre Society, 2013).

Connectedness Strategy

Connectedness is a strategy to address anxiety and depression.

Connectedness is the subjective experience of one’s feeling and perceptions about their social environment (family, school, peers, and community) and attachment to others. Connections to family, school and community are important for youth resilience and overall well-being.

Evidence-informed family and school connectedness strategies that can be used to prevent and combat youth anxiety and depression.

Family Connectedness

Based on a review of current literature, one researcher deterined that family connectedness yields the greatest potential, as it protects against emotional distress and a wide range of health risk behaviours.

Family connectedness provides both current and long-term reduction in youth depressive symptoms (Boutelle et al, 2009). Youth who reported being disconnected from parents conveyed a greater value in peer opinions over parental opinions for serious decision making, and experienced increase prevalence of health risk behaviours (Ackard et al, 2006).

Depression and anxiety symptoms are on average three times higher among girls and four times higher among boys with an overall feeling of low connection to their mothers (Skrove et al, 2013). Additionally, youth with high parental connections suffering from social anxiety had a lower probability of growing anxiety over time (Van Zalk et al, 2015).

School Connectedness

School Connectedness strongly correlates with youth mental health symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Similar to family connectedness low school connectedness predicts 1-year later depressive symptoms in youth (aged 12-14 years), and anxiety symptoms in girls (Shochet et al, 2006). An increased level of school connectedness was found to protect youth with risk of moderate to high depression (Langille et al, 2012). A high level of school connectedness was also a protective factor against suicidality across adolescents, including those at risk of depression (Langille et al, 2015).

Historically, school-based initiatives have been criticized for their inability to reach the masses (i.e., high risk groups – street involved youth). However, recent data on social connectedness in homeless youth found 71% (aged 14-18 years) attended school regularly, and relied on school connections over family connectedness (Dang, 2014).