The kids aren’t all right: Cambridge youth are sounding the alarm

Across the province, our children and youth are struggling. Growing rates of depression and anxiety in youth were already a concern prior to the pandemic. After two years of isolation, lockdowns and online classes, the mental health and overall well-being of youth is suffering.

In Cambridge, youth are sounding the alarm. Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge and North Dumfries is seeing this firsthand, as worried caregivers reach out for support, with need stretching beyond the funding our organization receives.

A recent report published by the Children and Youth Planning Table of Waterloo Region is putting numbers behind these trends. The Youth Impact Survey invited youth across the region to report on their overall health, well-being and sense of belonging. Recently, they released a disaggregated Youth Impact Report, which broke up the results by geography. Leaders in Cambridge should take note and work collaboratively on a “New Deal” for our community’s youth.

At the Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge and North Dumfries, we’ve had our finger on the pulse of youth well-being and recently received funds from the Astley Family Foundation to improve mental health programming for teens in our community. This is a positive step, but until then, our community needs a bigger picture and resourced strategy to make change.

Teen years can be hard enough without a global pandemic. When I was a teenager in Cambridge, we had an arts and music café in downtown Galt called the Refugee Café. This was my well-being space, a place where all the weirdos, geeks, nerds and kids who otherwise didn’t fit in, found a place of acceptance and belonging. Looking back, I’m sure my teen years would have been far more difficult without this community.

Are we actively and adequately creating spaces and opportunities that support youth belonging? For some youth, their schools and community centres, or recreational and sports programs or outdoor and natural spaces provide this. So why are Cambridge youth feeling the least supported in our region, and how do we as a community meet their needs?

The message this report sends should be loud and clear: we are not doing enough in Cambridge to support youth belonging and well-being. Luckily, solutions exist if we tap into the wisdom of our community’s youth and empower them to lead change.

Adolescence is a difficult and confusing time. And then kids grow up and become our community’s adults. Let’s send them into adulthood on a positive note. There is a municipal election this fall. Leaders need to put Cambridge’s youth squarely on the agenda, and we need to make sure our elected representatives have a plan to change this troubling narrative.

Cameron Dearlove is the interim executive director of Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge & North Dumfries.