How Foundry Supports Youth to Find Positive Pathways

December 5, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

If someone’s substance use affects their grades at school, performance at work or relationships with friends and family, they may be experiencing substance use challenges.

People aged 15 – 24 are more likely to experience substance use challenges than any other age group in Canada.

At a time when people are often thinking about going to university, starting their first job or focusing on personal interests and relationships, substance use challenges can lead people to feel isolated, impact their day to day lives, and lead to bigger problems later in life.

Understanding the causes of substance use

Donna Fullerton is an occupational therapist at Foundry North Shore. Her job involves working with youth and young adults to help them understand the impact that substance use has on their lives and to support them in finding pathways to positive health and well-being.

“A big part of it is figuring out the underlying reason that a young person is using substances,” says Donna. “Often, it’s because of mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression, or a history of trauma that leads people to use substances to cope.”

Depending on the kind of support they are looking for, Donna’s clients may attend group or individual sessions to identify the causes of their substance use and find alternative ways to address their challenges.  

We try to get people more connected to things that are meaningful to them, whether it’s social connections, leisure activities, volunteering, work or school. This can help them cope with their underlying problems other than by using substances.

Donna says peer support workers play an important role in supporting youth through this process.  

Peer support workers can tell clients; ‘I’ve been there, this is what worked for me,’ and offer mentorship, advice and be a positive role model that clients can really relate to.

This combination of professional guidance, lived experience, and non-judgement of substance use empowers young people to find their own new coping strategies, laying the foundation for improved health and well-being.

“What we find is that as people start taking part in meaningful activities, whatever that looks like for them, their mental health improves, and substance use often naturally decreases,” says Donna. 

Addressing a range of needs

This approach helps young people experiencing a range of early mental health and substance use challenges, says Donna, who highlights the diverse needs and pathways that bring clients to Foundry North Shore.

“We see clients who are almost abstinent but are experimenting with substances or maybe struggling with their mental health, to clients with advanced substance use challenges,” says Donna.

“We also see clients from all backgrounds, ages, income groups and other factors. Some might be living with parents or families, and some are homeless.”

It really highlights how mental health and substance use challenges do not discriminate.

Hope for the future

While young people may begin occupational therapy with a broad range of challenges, hopes and experiences, Donna says they have one thing in common.

All our youth have so much potential.

“If we can help young people connect with things that are meaningful to them, find positive pathways and coping behaviours and figure out what they want from life, then I hope that will lead them to experience fewer problems later.”

I really think that’s where we should put our energy, because that’s where we can make a big difference and reduce the need for mental health and addiction services in adulthood.

Are you, or do you know a young person, who is experiencing substance use challenges?

Learn more about how to support children and youth: