Montreal

Quebec psychiatrists seeing 'exponential increase' in anxiety, mental disorders in children born since 2010

Technology means Generation Alpha has a whole new set of issues affecting their mental health, says the president of the Quebec association of psychiatrists — everything from bullying on social media to their parents' electronic overuse. 

Psychiatrists association calls for mental health issues to be in school curriculum from kindergarten on

Dr. Karine Igartua, the president of the Quebec psychiatrists association, says the prevalence of technology means children today have to deal with a whole new set of issues that could be detrimental to their mental health. (Radio-Canada)

Parents who spend a lot of time connected to their electronic devices may be contributing to their children's anxiety and other mental health problems, said the president of Quebec's association of psychiatrists.

"Do we text our kids to come down for dinner?" Dr.Karine Igartua asked, in an interview on CBC Montreal's Daybreak Friday. "Or could we actually make the three extra steps, go to their bedroom, look them in the eye and say, 'Sweetie, dinner's ready.'"

Igartua said children born after 2010 — known as Generation Alpha — are experiencing an exponential increase in stress levels.

"In the last six years, anxiety disorders have doubled," she said, appealing to both parents and government for a "culture shift."

"Kids no longer have any sort of free playtime," Igartua said. "We're constantly overscheduling, overprotecting them, overstimulating them."

As well, the association of psychiatrists says, the prevalence of technology means children today have to deal with a whole new set of issues that could be detrimental to their mental health — such as bullying on social media. 

The association has launched a campaign, called Mouvement Alphas connectés, asking the government to introduce mental health courses into the curricula of elementary and high schools, starting as early as kindergarten. 

Igartua said the association wants to see schools teach children how to use their electronic devices safely, how to recognize and express their emotions and how to better navigate conflict.

At the high school level, students need to be taught about issues of consent and drug use, she said.

The onus should not be on teachers to address these topics, she said, but on experts.

Right to disconnect

Igartua said she would like to see the adoption of policies that would entitle working people to "off hours."

All too often, she said, workplaces expect employees to check and reply to messages at all hours of the day and night, cutting into precious family time. 

As for psychiatrists themselves, Igartua said the association recognizes how hard it is to get timely help for mental illness.

"We are also committed to looking at how we can reorganize services so that kids get services earlier," she said.

However, she said, with demand increasing dramatically, "even if we were to throw millions and millions at the problem, if we don't look at the source, we're never going to catch up." 

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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