New program to target childhood anxiety

The Yukon government is looking for volunteers to help run a new program aimed at children's mental health. Known as FRIENDS, the program teaches kids and youth to cope with, and understand, their emotions.

The Yukon government is looking for volunteers to help run a new program aimed at children’s mental health.

Known as FRIENDS, the program teaches kids and youth to cope with, and understand, their emotions. The idea is to help prevent anxiety disorders and depression as they get older.

Representatives from the territory’s health and education departments as well as Bell and Northwestel were on hand Thursday to announce $500,000 to run the program over the next five years.

Half the cash comes from the government. The rest is from the Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign and was originally announced in 2014.

“It all comes down to improved wellness. Improved wellness helps children reach their fullest potentials as learners and it helps them as community participants as well,” said Education Minister Doug Graham.

“The FRIENDS program includes mindfulness, relaxation strategies, self-regulation, self-soothing and empathy and it also encourages positive self-talk, resilience, confidence- building.

“Those things all help the students improve their classroom performance as well.”

The Yukon program is still in its infancy. There’s no timeline for when a coordinator will be hired or volunteers chosen and trained to run these groups. All that has to happen before students can get involved.

The territory will be looking at how FRIENDS programs are run in other places, but the Yukon’s will be tweaked to have a northern focus. Local First Nations will be involved, Nixon said.

Volunteers from each of the Yukon’s communities will be trained to deliver the program, which takes place over eight- to 10-week sessions, he said. In the Yukon it will be targeted at all school-aged children and youth.

“Facilitators will be respected leaders and mentors within the communities and will be chosen based on community recommendations, their experience running groups and by having some connections with existing services,” said Health Minister Mike Nixon.

He described the facilitators as “an informal link to more formalized services in the territory.”

“This is one way to reach out to our Yukon youth and children in addressing depression and anxiety in hopes that we can curb future mental health issues when they’re adults.”

FRIENDS began in Australia and is now used around the world, including in British Columbia.

It has been described by the World Health Organization as “a promising prevention of anxiety program.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

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