Supporting mental health in youth can help prevent substance use

Parents and caregivers are encouraged to support their teens and young adults in taking care of their mental health to help reduce the risk of their children developing a mental health or substance use concern.

According to a recent 2018 report from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, drugs such as cannabis and alcohol can have a negative impact on the developing brain and can lead to health problems. The report also indicates that frequent cannabis use during teen years can increase the risk for substance use disorders or mental health problems later in life.

“Before the age of 25, adolescent brains are growing and developing rapidly and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of drugs and alcohol,” said Mary June Peacock, a public health nurse with the Durham Region Health Department. “The earlier youth can learn to develop healthy, life-long ways to take care of their mental well-being that doesn’t include alcohol, drugs, or other potentially harmful choices, the better prepared they will be to face life’s challenges.”

While the reasons youth may choose to use substances are complex and there is no single cause or solution for substance use, parents and caregivers can provide support, guidance and encourage healthy coping strategies. Healthy coping may include practicing activities such as structured sports, yoga, deep breathing, walking, journaling, arts and crafts or several other beneficial activities. Parents should also be a healthy role model themselves by practicing healthy coping strategies with their families.

Other ways to help teens build healthy coping mechanisms include creating positive relationships with supportive peers, caring adults both inside and outside the family, and safe, accepting schools and communities.

“Building a positive support system can help enhance youth’s ability to cope with everyday challenges,” said Ms. Peacock. “This support may help them stay away from making choices that can harm their health, such as using alcohol, cannabis or other substances.”

To find more information on mental health and healthy coping, visit

To view the Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2018: Preventing Problematic Substance Use in Youth, visit

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