Claudine is passionate about social work and mental health. She spent time working for a non-profit to help support new immigrants transition into Canadian life. She has also spent time with at-risk youth and the homeless population over the last 15 years. She worked to help them overcome various challenges in hopes of stabilizing their situation or the situation of their family unit. There are often mental health challenges, and issues with general family breakdown. They are seeking help figuring out how to fit in and determining their place in society.
At-risk youth in crisis
She describes one of her patients – a young man who had recently immigrated to Canada. He had been suffering from mental health concerns and depression, and was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. One day she went to his residence to check up on him and he didn’t answer the door. Due to the nature of her job she was permitted to enter the residence to check up on him, and she found him unresponsive. She called 911 right away.
What she came to realize was the young man tried to take his life that night. After spending some time in the hospital and being released, she connected with him regarding aspects of his life that contributed to his suicide attempt.
He had never told anyone before, but before he moved to Canada he was bullied for years by two peers of his. They had threatened him and coerced him into doing things like stealing for them and giving them money. What started as psychological bullying progressed to physical bullying, and then sexual abuse.
Through this process of disclosing his story to Claudine, he expressed a lot of guilt and shame over what had happened to him and what he did at that time. It was a trauma that occurred when he was young that would leave a lasting wound as he got older. His life became quite transient, leading him to the institution where Claudine was working.
Professional help and support networks
Due to the seriousness of the situation, it was important that this young man was given access to proper professional help. After his stay at the hospital, he was connected with a therapist, a psychiatrist and prescribed anti-depressant medication. It was clear that he needed more than just talk therapy – the first step was getting him stabilized so that he could then function well enough to receive ongoing help.
Claudine also connected him with a health and fitness coach who prepared a fitness program for him to help manage some of the emotions and stressors in his life. He needed a way to cope, other than resorting to drugs and alcohol. It also gave him a sense of purpose and structure in his life, which was needed as part of stabilizing someone who has been ‘lost’ or living in a transient way. It was really a combination of things that helped him start to recover, or at least to stabilize his condition so he could begin healing. It’s unfortunate that a suicide attempt was what was required to bring the extent of his trauma out in the open.
Proactive vs reactive help
But I don’t think that it needed to be that way. There were many signs that something was quite wrong in the first place. This young man could not complete his high school requirements, he couldn’t hold down a job, he struggled with substance abuse. He got in trouble with the law, did illegal things like stealing and selling drugs. To end this destructive cycle, the precipitating factors underlying his behavioural issues needed to be uncovered and addressed. But he was closed down, isolated and never told anyone. It’s clear how these cycles keep perpetuating.
Supporting people who are in these kinds of situations leads to a better outcome for everyone – the hope is that addressing some root causes of behaviour will reduce that poor behaviour going forward. Simple systems of punishment don’t do that, and people will often reoffend. It’s not that there’s an excuse for poor behaviour and illegal activities, but it’s an explanation, and more importantly it leads us to a potential solution.
Look at the whole family unit
Additionally, when looking at supporting youth it’s important to consider the entire family situation also. There could be many problems within a family that causes breakdowns – abuse, financial concerns, single parents struggling etc. Parents want the best for their kids, but when they themselves are having a hard time and struggling with something, it can bleed over and affect the kids as well. Kids easily pick up on these things from their parents and are highly influenced by them. Kids can experience fear and this can cause them to act out. It’s important that parents are able to act as role models and emulate the same behaviour to their kids that they want their kids to learn and use to interact with their peers.
Mentorship is an important opportunity
Claudine really advocates for the role a mentor can play in the development of a child. Sometimes parents are unavailable, or sometimes they are weighed down with their own problems and have trouble knowing what to do or how to manage. Raising a child can be a community effort. A mentor who volunteers to be another trusted voice who a child can speak with, without fear of judgement by their parents can present a great opportunity to dig into challenges that are otherwise not addressed. Some programs that run mentorship services include the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Even some schools are involved with programs, and parents can reach out to their schools to find out more.
Taking things one step further, Claudine thinks that the concept of mentorship should just be a normal part of life, and not only for those who are already struggling. I agree with her – surrounding yourself with people, communities, peers or trusted mentors gives you more of a robust perspective. It’s important that a mentor is someone who has life experience and had perhaps learned some hard lessons along the way. I’m not convinced that being a mentor is something you can teach to someone. A lot of the wisdom and understanding comes from personal experience, especially if that experience was difficult or required overcoming personal challenges. Even something as simple as getting involved with extracurricular activities can lead to mentorship opportunities. The leaders of these organizations, whether they be sports teams, music, martial arts, religious organizations or different kinds of youth clubs.
a cyber bullying story
Another anecdote about bullying that Claudine shared was an experience with cyber bullying when her daughter was in grade 7. It started with simple things like name calling at school, picking on and exclusion from activities on the playground. Claudine pushed for the teacher to do something, so she eventually, and reluctantly made a few changes to separate her daughter from the other girls as much as possible with a different seating arrangement, and giving her activities to do during recess. The bullying subsided temporarily, but then moved online.
Claudine’s older daughter came to her one day with a screenshot of some things that were being said online to her sister. Claudine took these as serious threats, and went to the principle. She found the principle was reluctant to take any action, so in order to get a bit more support and guidance she went to speak with the local police. The police took it seriously, and went to visit the school that same day and had a chat with all the girls in question to demonstrate to them the seriousness of what they had said.
It’s always difficult to know how to handle these situations. On one hand, the police could act as a wake up call for the young girls and even their parents to pay more attention to what’s going on online. On the other hand and as I’ve discussed in past episodes, simple punishment can also create more fear and anger which could make bullying worse. It’s a balance.
Help kids to help themselves
However, Claudine proceeded to say that she was really focused on helping her daughter learn that she’s bigger than this problem, and that there are things she can do to stand up for herself and to not accept things or to not let things bother her. Working on tactics like that can help lessen the impact of any bullying that could occur in the future. Just an awareness of what is normal, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable, and what could be dangerous allows a child to begin to navigate through their interpersonal issues. This is especially true online – to understand all the implications of how information is shared and stored, the dangers presented by the anonymous nature of the internet, and the exposure to limitless and sometimes destructive forms of information and influence.
Claudine believes that each individual should continuously work to build themselves up and discipline themselves through life. There are many dimensions to this – academically, socially, physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally – and each of these dimensions is one part of the whole that represents an individual.