British Columbia

Anxious teens 'tune in to present moment' to overcome mental illness

Students battling depression, anxiety and stress are able to ease symptoms through a mindfulness training program offered at B.C. Children's Hospital.

Students battling depression, anxiety ease symptoms by practicing mindfulness

The B.C. Children's Hospital program helps struggling youth practice meditation and mindfulness to help improve their mental health. (KeltyMentalHealth/YouTube)

It's not easy being a teenager.

As many as one in three students in Canada feel psychologically distressed, according to research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Data from Statistics Canada shows that 11 per cent of Canadians between 15 and 24 meet criteria for depression.

Some psychiatrists attribute the widespread mental health challenges to the anxiety-inducing pressure to 'fit in' — pressure that's been amplified in the age of social media.

For 15-year-old Cedar Pratt, stress has kept her from going to school.

"It was getting to the point where I would have panic attacks where I felt like I couldn't breathe," Pratt told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition. "I'd have social anxiety where I felt like I was avoiding situations where I might be in a vulnerable position."

But Pratt has found help — she's part of a group of Vancouver teens that are practising mindfulness and meditation to combat mental illness.

Now, she's able to ward off her negative emotions by "tuning in to the moment."

Practising mindfulness 

The program is offered at the B.C. Children's Hospital and teaches mindfulness — a form of meditation that encourages concentrating on the present moment and surroundings.

Pediatrician Dr. Dzung Vo co-directs the program.

"I'm trying to teach young people how to be just fully present in the moment on purpose and without judgment or with a sense of self compassion and acceptance," Vo said.

Patients suffering from depression and anxiety are referred to the program, which runs over eight weeks.

"It's really about tuning in to what's happening in the present moment — that can be your breath, your thoughts, your emotions, even your pain," said Vo. 

Patients aged 15-19 participate in the eight-week class. (KeltyMentalHealth/YouTube)

'Just thoughts and emotions'

Pratt says she practices when she wakes up in the morning, and before she goes to bed — the two times of the day where negative emotions often get the better of her.

"I'm always anxious about what I have to do for the day," she said. "I find that practicing mindfulness at those two times actually sets my day up a lot better."

Pratt says a lot of her practice is informal — she brings awareness into activities like running, walking, or listening to music. But she also does formal meditations where she tries to zero in on parts of her body that feel affected by her emotions.

"I approach the stressful situations with a lot of compassion toward myself, and being able to realize that how I'm feeling is valid," said Pratt. "The [thoughts] that go through my head and the emotions are just that — they're just thoughts and emotions."

"They don't have power over me and it's been a lot easier to see my struggles as not a part of me — but just something that might last temporarily [and] it will pass at some point," she said.


  • The mindfulness program does not run one-on-one sessions with therapists, as previously stated. Also, Dr. Dzung Vo is co-director of the program and does not run the program, as previously stated.
    May 14, 2018 10:47 AM PT