Tag Archives: Youth depression

The Science Behind the Brain and Physical Activity

Team Unbreakable’s first annual Train the Trainer featured a host of fascinating topics and speakers. One of these speakers was Jennifer Lepock, a PhD Candidate in Neuroscience from the University of Toronto. Jennifer spoke on the current research underpinning exercise and mental health, along with her experience using running to help treat her mood disorder.

Jennifer started running in 2013. She used the sport to help stabilize her mood and ease the symptoms of her new medication. Her personal experience would go on to dovetail with her academic and professional pursuits.

Studies have shown that physical activity can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve feelings of esteem and boost brain functioning in adolescents. “Higher levels of fitness benefit the brain structure and students feel better. This helps them with their school and social relationships,” Jennifer said.

But what is the actual neurochemistry behind physical activity?

Jennifer explained to the group that running triggers neurotransmitters that send chemical messages between the neurons.  Serotonin is increased when we run, which helps to regulate mood.

Studies have shown that running at least 30 minutes, three times a week can help people better deal with stress, improve the ability to focus and help treat more chronic issues related to psychosis, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s, Jenny said.  Elevated dopamine levels contribute to these results.

And there are additional benefits related to other brain chemicals

Jennifer said that after 30 minutes of running, many people experience a ‘runners high’ that will make them feel better and block pain.  Cortisol levels are higher, and more oxygen is getting to the brain resulting in more adrenaline in the body including the hormone epinephrine. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone that help us fight off illness or infections, Jenny added. This “natural high” likens the effect of cannabis.

Jennifer is her last year of the Doctorate Degree. She has volunteered with Team Unbreakable since 2016. The focus of her work is early onset psychosis and schizophrenia in youth populations.

The Alarming Rate of Youth Mental Health Issues

A 2016 study of more than 25,000 postsecondary students conducted by the Ontario University and College Health Association (OUCHA) found that 65 per cent had experienced overwhelming anxiety, 46 per cent had felt so depressed that it was difficult to function, 13 per cent had seriously considered suicide and 11 per cent had attempted suicide.

These results confirm what campus psychological services professionals have been echoing in recent years: mental-health issues abound in today’s youngest generation and they continue to grow. According to the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, Ontario’s postsecondary institutions saw a 433 per cent increase in the number of students registered with mental-illness disabilities between 2oo4-14.  Given these statistics, it is not out of line to call this a mental-health crisis among Gen Z.

(courtesy, Sean Lyons, Professor of leadership and organizational management in the College of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph, appearing in the Globe and Mail on Dec. 16, 2017)


Hailey pays it forward and is now studying to be a social worker

As the Executive Director of Team Unbreakable, a program dedicated to helping youth realize the benefits of physical health for mental health, I’m proud of our volunteers and staff who work to make the program more available. Every week, I see the results as Team Unbreakable programs help our youth to manage stress, anxiety and depression.

Please Help Us To Continue Our Programs: Donate Today

Hailey Walsh is an early graduate of this running program and in her own words, “it changed my life – it saved me.” Eight years ago when she started running as a form of therapy, she was willing to try anything to help her ease her pain and mental angst. After her group runs, she wrote in her logbook that “this makes me feel unbreakable.” And she kept coming back to that phrase to describe the power, and strength she had uncovered.
It was this inspiration from Hailey that resulted in the charity calling our programs, “Team Unbreakable.” Over the years she has continued to stay in touch. She has coached others in the program as a volunteer and she’s spent a co-op term volunteering with our Team Unbreakable coordinators. Soon she will be paying it forward again as she plans to graduate next year from Humber College as a social worker.

Across the province, there are students, teachers and community leaders who, just like Hailey who are seeing a need to help others. Funding is a major obstacle in the development of new Team Unbreakable programs in much needed areas of the province. You can help us this Christmas Season by making a donation to our 2017 fundraising efforts. Many youth are suffering in silence from anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. And they desperately need this program. Please support our Team Unbreakable programs.

Donate today. I thank you for helping us to change a student’s life.

Carl Worrell
Team Unbreakable Executive Director

One in five teens in Canada seriously considers suicide: study

A report released Sept. 8, 2016 by Kids Help Phone – Teens Talk 2016 – has revealed that one in five teens in Canada has seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, and discovered correlations between teens’ suicidal thoughts and specific behaviours or experiences.

The Teens Talk 2016 report is based on the results of a national survey of 1,319 teens aged 13 – 18 –statistically representative of age and gender across each province – and explores the issues teens face, such as suicide, body or self-image, relationship issues and bullying.

“We’re concerned with how common suicidal thoughts are among teens in Canada, but while our report shows that suicidal thoughts are common in teens, suicide does not have to be,” said Alisa Simon, Vice-President Counselling Services and Programs.

“It is absolutely crucial that we work together as a country, within our communities and in our classrooms, to create an open dialogue around suicide and suicidal thoughts, and that we foster understanding and build supports for young people that are there when they need them the most.”

The report showed that a primary indicator of whether a teen is experiencing an issue was that they had searched the web or social media about it.

“More than half of teens who had considered suicide had also searched the web or social media for related information, and importantly, almost half of teens who had considered suicide did not speak to anyone about it,” said Simon.

“It’s when we aren’t aware that a problem exists that we face the greatest barriers to helping a young person address their suicidal thoughts.

“This report’s findings present us with a golden opportunity to work better to meet kids where they are at in their digital world, and provide the supports they need in this space for when they don’t reach out in person.”

The report also explored correlations between suicidal thoughts and specific behaviours or experiences, finding that teens experiencing suicidal thoughts are often simultaneously experiencing other challenges.

“Teens do not experience issues in isolation. The issues they are experiencing, and the behaviours that occur as a result, all interact, connect and overlap,” said Simon.

“Teens who experienced suicidal thoughts were often also experiencing violence at home or school, body or self-image concerns or addictions to drugs and alcohol.”

Teens who have seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months:

  • Represented one in five teens (22%) surveyed
  • Did not speak to anyone about suicide (47%)
  • Said they had formulated a plan (46%)
  • Were twice as likely to be girls as boys
  • Were much more likely than teens who did not consider attempting suicide to have reported body or self-image concerns, violence at home or school or drug or alcohol addictions.
  • To view the full report, please visit www.kidshelpphone.ca/teenstalk

Amanda Overholt joins CameronHelps as Halton-Peel community coordinator

Amanda Overholt has recently joined CameronHelps as the Community Program Coordinator for Team Unbreakable in the Halton & Peel Region. This new role, funded by an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant, will work within communities to provide other outlets for youth to access Team Unbreakable programs.

Team Unbreakable partners with schools and community organizations to provide recreational youth running groups in support of youth mental health where all youth are welcome to participate in a supportive environment. Team Unbreakable also provides therapeutic running groups for those who have been referred by a professional. Overall, the goal of the program is to give youth the tools and resources that instill in them the confidence to overcome the many challenges they may be facing.

Amanda will be working with hospitals, medical centres, community agencies and organizations such as municipal recreation programs, private sector companies, churches, community groups, as well as colleges and universities to start Team Unbreakable programs. This will allow youth to access programs if there is not currently Team Unbreakable in their area, as well as provide access for those participating in school programs to continue the program at convenient times and places outside of school hours.

Amanda is passionate about health and wellness, specifically helping others achieve optimal physical and mental health. She has taken part in a variety of 5km races, and looks forward to being a part of CameronHelps and Team Unbreakable.

Holy Rosary Team Unbreakable coach Maryann Morris a role model for students



In a salute to the unsung heroes of our high school Team Unbreakable progam, CameronHelps (CH) is profiling some of the dedicated coaches who teach, nurture and run with our youth. Our first profile is with Maryann Morris, a Child and Youth Counsellor for Holy Rosary School in Burlington.

CH: How did you become involved in the program?

Maryann – I became involved in Team Unbreakable through a presentation at one of our school board team meetings. The program had been running in some of our secondary schools and there was interest building in running it in some of our elementary schools. I suggested the program to our school as we were looking for opportunities to promote children’s mental health. We also liked the idea that students could belong to a team that wasn’t competitive and inclusive of all abilities. This was our first year with the program at our school.

CH: How has the program been working?

Maryann – We started up the program in the late fall for any students in grade 6-8. John (Knox) came to the school and led an assembly for our students introducing the program and how they could get involved. We trained every Monday and Thursday after school. We had staff join us on these practice runs and a teacher led us as our running coach. Our Public Health Nurse, from the Halton Regional Health Department co- led the program along with me. We prepared for the Bold and Cold Run in November. We had 13 students and 4 staff attend this event. During the winter months we took a break from training until mid-March. We then began our twice a week training and continued on until the Mother’s Day weekend Team Unbreakable Run in May. At this event we had 14 students and 4 staff participate.

CH: Any special highlights you would like to mention”

Maryann – For me the most satisfying aspect of the program is the range of student abilities this program suits. We had kids come out who were athletic and on sports teams to our students who do not make it on school teams but wanted to be involved in something extra-curricular as well as have the benefit of the exercise in running. Team Unbreakable gave them something to belong to.  One special moment was at the end our Bold and Cold Run all the participants had crossed the finish line except one student and our whole group went out onto the route to meet up with her and cheer for her as she came into the finish area. I felt so proud of our kids and this show of sportsmanship and compassion!

CH: Tell us something of yourself and your own journey

Maryann – For me this was a challenging activity. By setting goals for myself and gradually reaching my goals I think I was a good role model to the students.  I am not a distance runner and don’t think of myself as athletic. I enjoy recreational sports like swimming and hiking. I do enjoy being outside and there were days that the weather was beautiful and the run was a great way to finish off my school day.