Youth Wellness Hub Niagara (YWHN) is a partnership between the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre, the John Howard Society — Welland, the Centre de santé communautaire Hamilton-Niagara in Welland, and Contact Niagara for Children’s and Developmental Services. YWHN is a “one-stop-shop” for all youth (ages 12-25) to access mental health and substance use supports, primary care services, housing, education, and employment supports, in addition to a variety of wellness activities.
In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Youth Wellness Hub Niagara (YWHN) rapidly transitioned to making its service offerings available virtually. In collaboration with the YWHN Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) and community partners, processes were developed to connect youth with a variety of supports, from meeting with a mental health, substance use clinician and/or nurse practitioner virtually, to attending wellness activities, such as yoga or cooking classes via Zoom.
Given the impact of the pandemic on everyday life, especially for young people of marginalized communities, the YWHN is working to reduce barriers to services and to meet youth “where they are at”. A major focus is on continuing to develop community partnerships and collaborating with youth to inform priority aspects of service delivery.
Participants in a Spring 2020 cross-sectional study of existing clinical and community cohorts of Ontario youth reported being concerned about their mental health; perceived their mental health to have deteriorated since before the pandemic, and were found to likely meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis. A total of 68.4% and 39.9% of youth in the clinical and community samples, respectively, met the screening criteria for an internalizing mental health disorder. Youth surveyed reported wanting more mental health supports, financial supports, and ideas to keep well, engaged, and busy (1).
These provincial results are consistent with YWHN requests for service, with almost half requesting services such as mental health supports. As well, youth and service providers alike note the need for social supports during this challenging time.
Clearly, the pandemic has adversely impacted the lives of youth across Ontario. Addressing this requires a multifaceted approach. Given that the needs of youth from different populations and communities are unique, and YWHN priority populations are Indigenous and Francophone youth, the YWHN continues to build community partnerships highlighting the expertise of agencies in the Niagara region. For example, through a partnership with De dwa da dehs nye>s (Aboriginal Health Centre Niagara), a weekly soapstone carving workshop, offered virtually and in-person, provides youth who identify as Indigenous an opportunity to connect and be creative.
The YWHN continues to work closely with our YAC, to inform priority aspects of service delivery. This allows the YWHN to develop services and organizational structures that better meet the needs of youth in Niagara. It is also providing personal and professional opportunities for YAC members.
Alex, a Youth Advisory Committee member, shares:
“The YWHN has provided me access to mental health services that are extremely youth-friendly and has helped my recovery in a huge way. Being given the chance to participate in the youth advisory committee has given me a chance to give back and to implement my own ideas into the youth hubs and the programming that goes on there as well. All in all, the YWHN has changed my life in an extremely positive way and I can’t express how truly thankful I am that it is here for youth like me”
The new year 2021 brings exciting developments for the YWHN. In late 2020, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced annualized funding for the 10 Youth Wellness Hub sites across the province. With this funding, the YWHN will be expanding our team to include additional mental health, substance use, primary care, and peer supports for youth in Niagara. Moving forward, the YWHN will continue to build on the hard work of our YAC and community partners, as we strive to better support Niagara’s youth.
For more information, please visit our website: https://youthhubs.ca/en/sites/niagara/ or check us out on Instagram or Facebook: @YWHNiagara
Project Manager, Youth Wellness Hub Niagara (YWHN)
(1) Hawke, L. D., Barbic, S. P., Voineskos, A., Szatmari, P., Cleverley, K., Hayes, E., Relihan, J., Daley, M., Courtney, D., Cheung, A., Darnay, K., & Henderson, J. L. (2020). Impacts of COVID-19 on Youth Mental Health, Substance Use, and Well-being: A Rapid Survey of Clinical and Community Samples: Répercussions de la COVID-19 sur la santé mentale, l’utilisation de substances et le bien-être des adolescents: un sondage rapide d’échantillons cliniques et communautaires. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 65(10), 701–709. https://doi.org/10.1177/0706743720940562