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Regina youth manage stress and anxiety with a little help from FRIENDS

May 6, 2014 - More than 120 Regina Grade 4 and 6 students have been given some new “FRIENDS” to help them better cope with stress, as part of a pilot program in Regina Public Schools.

The Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region and Regina Public Schools teamed up this school year to offer an innovative pilot program to 122 students in Grades 4 and 6, giving them tools to help reduce and better manage stress, anxiety and depression. The program is funded by the RBC Foundation through its five-year RBC Believe in Kids pledge.

“Children are experiencing more stress, and this can lead to physical and mental health problems,” said Robert Stephenson, RQHR psychologist and Regina FRIENDS pilot project coordinator. “The FRIENDS program equips kids with coping tools at an early age, so they can be more successful in dealing with situations as they arise, hopefully preventing significant difficulties later in life.”

FRIENDS is an acronym for the skills and lessons emphasized in the program:
Feelings
Remember to relax
I can try! I can do my best!
Explore coping plans and solutions
Now reward yourself
Don’t forget to practice
Smile and stay calm for life

This world-leading, evidence-based mental health program was launched in six schools across Regina Public Schools in fall 2013, with students participating as part of their health classes. The program was offered by RQHR mental health staff from Regina Child and Youth Services, in partnership with school counsellors.

The results show the program is working. Seventy-six students completed a questionnaire that measured how much anxiety and depression they were feeling before and after participating in FRIENDS. Prior to participation, 17.1% reported clinical levels of anxiety, depression, or both. That number dropped to 11.8% after completing the program. There was also a 19% decrease in the average level of depression and a 26% decrease in the average level of anxiety among the children in both grades.

“The positive results of this pilot are consistent with the success FRIENDS has had in other school boards offering the program,” said Stephenson. “Our research shows that many young students who have taken part in the program now experience less anxiety and depression, and also have an increased ability to manage stress. Many parents also indicated their children were better able to cope with situations that may have caused anxiety, frustration or depression in the past.”

Following initial success, an additional 280 students were included in the second wave of the program, launched in February 2014. These students will complete the program in June.

“Our school division has been working hard to develop effective and reliable working partnerships within our community, and by doing so, strengthen supports that can be offered to students. FRIENDS is a great example of what we can accomplish through collaboration,” said Gary Halbert, Regina Public Schools’ Supervisor of Intensive Supports, Student Achievement. “We’re pleased FRIENDS has been so positive for our families and students. It takes a village to raise a child. This is an excellent example of how that can work both in schools, and in our community as a whole.”

For more information about the RBC Believe in Kids pledge, visit rbc.com/kids.