In the last two weeks, I have been checking in virtually with patients in one of the regular Youth programs. I am going to highlight some of the concerns we are discussing and see if you have any thoughts about these that might help us move forward.
“Dr. Beck, I am really going to miss all of our special celebrations: like the beginning of the year barbeque, the holiday party and the end of year celebration. Think of all the food we prepare together and the things we do. All those activities are finished now, I suppose.”
“I’ll bet we won’t be able to play pool again. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m convinced I’d beat you the next time we play.”
“Cooking is a life skill, you know, Dr. Beck. I’m worried we won’t do that anymore. I’m even more worried about that now that we’ve had my Dad’s cooking for 2 months. I need to know how to cook!”
“I miss going to the gym. Do you think we’ll keep going to the gym?”
When I point out that there will still be med groups and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Groups, the skepticism is plain on a video call – the skepticism is plain even on a teleconference.
“Well, there’ll be those groups, but without food, right?”
If it seems that food is unusually important, remember that one definition of an adolescent is “an appetite with a skin pulled over it”. Also, the ability to prepare good, nutritious food is, as one patient pointed out, “a life skill”. Preparing good, nutritious meals, with basic ingredients, is such an important life skill that families who can do this have a better standard of living than families who must rely on more expensive, less nutritious pre-packaged meals. Access to good, nutritious meals, by preparing them yourself, is fundamental to good mental and physical health. Listening to my young patients advocate to continue to learn about food preparation, I am convinced that somehow, we must figure out how to continue to do this.
The other element that our programs are known for, and that our patients love, are our parties. Our holiday party in December brings together youth from all our programs. They plan the food, the activities and they prepare the meals with staff. They host a party. Parties at home are an inexpensive celebration and we all need to know how to celebrate. Being able to plan and host a party is another life skill.
Youth from families that are poor, for whom food and shelter may be precarious, benefit from learning about the small pleasures that those of us who are privileged take for granted.
The parent who “made” you do the dishes, or cook supper on the weekend or attend your annoying younger brother’s soccer games was showing you things that were important to build your life. Leaving aside that many of our patients are hungry and just need a meal, we are just beginning to realize what “services” they enjoy the most. People say good things about our therapy groups but this was the strongest endorsement:
“You can’t stop the parties, Dr. Beck. I may never get to anything like that again.”
(Here is our empty corridor. Bring back the parties! What do you think? How can we do this?)