An open letter to parents from The Royal

Editor's Note

This article originally appeared in a special report from The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.


Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was sitting in my office one afternoon, meeting with a patient online, when they asked, “Dr. Beck, am I going to be able to finish high school?”

Like many of us, teens are frightened by the virus, but their worries have shifted to their future and all of the unknowns that come with a pandemic. Most of the youth whom I work with know that education is key to better jobs and a better life, but they – and their parents – are nervous and unsure about how their school year will be affected.

For teens who are already living with a mental illness, who have been both physically and socially distancing from their friends and families for months, this adjustment could be debilitating.

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I know how hard my patients work to be and stay well. The best thing about being a psychiatrist for youth is that I watch many of my patients grow up to be happy and successful.

It’s because of the kindness of our donors that they are given the opportunity to succeed in life. They still have so many years left to live their best lives, and with continued support, we can ensure they soar to greater heights, reaching their life goals, and becoming the person they are meant to be.

Dr. Gail Beck
Clinical director, youth mental health
The Royal

Dr. Beck’s top 3 tips for youth and parents during stressful situations

First and most important, rest.

If you are feeling especially anxious or have an anxiety disorder, evidence shows that you should spend 40 per cent of your day resting. What does that mean? What is resting? Resting includes sleeping, and teens need at least eight hours of sleep daily. That’s about one-third of the day. Other resting activities include exercise, reading, listening to music, napping, knitting or other hobbies and chatting at a safe social distance — any activity that helps you smile or have fun.

I remind teens in my practice that video games are not necessarily restful and screens on their own can often be more exciting than calming. For example, I like watching documentaries and movies but I make sure not to watch upsetting shows. The Silence of the Lambs is not my idea of a restful movie.

The next best thing to do if you’re anxious — an activity that counts as restful, in fact — is exercise.

The teens in my inpatient practice complain sometimes if I suggest we go for a walk, but I remind them that what we’re doing is actively working against hormones that cause stress.

The research shows that this works more effectively if you can be outdoors, so go outdoors. Use fresh air to combat anxiety!

Another thing to do is eat nourishing food.

Since you’re going to be around home anyway while you’re socially distancing, why not make your own bread or soup? There is time for oatmeal in the morning and you probably now have more than 20 minutes to think about supper, so make something special.

Need help now?

One in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. You are not alone and help is available.

If you are struggling and need help, the first step is to contact your family doctor, nurse practioner or a walk-in medical clinic. These professionals can help to figure out what is wrong, provide treatment, and/or refer you to specialized care like The Royal.

Need help for problems with drug or alcohol use?

The Royal’s Substance Use and Concurrent Disorders program offers many different services to help people who are struggling with drugs or alcohol use.
You do not need a referral from a doctor to access these services.
Just call 613-722-6521 ext. 6508 and we will help you figure out what the best service is for you.

Crisis lines

  • Mental Health Crisis Line: 1+(866) 996-0991
  • Ottawa and the counties of Prescott Russell, Renfrew and Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry: 1+(613) 722-6914
  • Leeds & Grenville district: 1+(866) 281-2911
  • Pembroke Regional Hospital Mobile Crisis Team: 1+(613) 732-3675 ext. 8116 or 1+(866) 996-0991
  • Youth Services Bureau 24/7 Crisis Line: 1+(613)260-2360 or 1+(613) 377-7775
  • Kids Help Phone: 1+(800) 668-6868 or text ‘TALK’ to 686868

Read the full report from The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health below:

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