Dr. Pamela Wilansky-Traynor on Mental Health and Adolescents

Dr. Pamela Wilansky-Traynor Interview with Dan Carter

Ontario Shores psychologist Dr. Pamela Wilansky-Traynor speaks with Dan Carter on Studio 12 News about the stressors on adolescents during their transition to college or university.

Text Transcript

In Depth with Dan Carter is brought to you by Ontario Power Generation, proud to be part of Durham Region.

Dan Carter
Hi everybody, good evening and thank-you for joining us on our In Depth portion of Studio 12 News. It got a lot cooler, a lot quicker, but the good news is Jay Scotland has told us, is that it will get a little bit warmer for the weekend and the sun will reappear over the weekend so it should be a great one. Over the next couple nights, we started you earlier on this week, talking about university and college students and some of the stresses that are appearing in their lives and then, them seeking assistance to be able to deal with some of their mental health and addiction issues. We introduced you to a young lady that went off to university, found right off the bat, that she was utilizing alcohol to be able to suppress some of the issues that she was dealing with and then had to seek professional help for her mental health condition. The good news is four years after entering school, she continued her school, went on to be a psychotherapist.

Today, we’re going to talk with Dr. Traynor. She is an adolescent specialist and sits down and works with adolescents to get to the bottom of a lot of these issues and helps them through these stressful periods of their life. Here is my conversation at Ontario Shores with Dr. Traynor.

One of the reasons why I wanted to sit down with you is, we’ve got college and university students now returning to campuses or first time students going to campus. They’re going to find it a little overwhelming. Is this a time for high stress for these individuals and does a mental health issue come out of high stress times or is it a time when maybe there was a mental health issue there that comes to the surface.

Dr. Traynor
Definitely, exactly what you said, it’s both of them. So, when we’re in periods of stress, anything can be heightened. So if you have a preexisting condition or something has happened before in your past, definitely stressful times will exacerbate what is already happening. At the same time too, if you’ve been fine up until this period of your life then maybe you haven’t had many stressful events coming into your life and then, all of a sudden, have this new stressful situation then something can develop as well during this time.

Dan Carter
I know your study looks at the brain and looks at all the different facets of the brain and I’m just wondering if, because you’re a lot smarter than I am, your expertise is in what field?

Dr. Traynor
I’m a psychologist.

Dan Carter
Okay. And do you specifically look after age groups or all age groups?

Dr. Traynor
I happen to look after children, adolescent and adults.

Dan Carter
Can I ask you, the adolescents, it seems that adolescent headlines about mental health issues are being more and more written about. Why is that, in your opinion?

Dr. Traynor
There are so many reasons. First of all, finally we’re getting the recognition it needs. The adolescent period, in terms of mental health, has always been described as the poor cousin of any type of issues that are happening, especially with mental health and in general. It’s a hard age because they’re no longer children, they’re not quite adults. In terms of services that are being provided to them, we really have to find the appropriate help for them. So finally it’s getting the recognition that’s needed.

Dan Carter
Does the brain change dramatically, let’s even say between 13 and 22?

Dr. Traynor
Most definitely. There are tons of periods. Everybody thinks that once you’re a certain age, in terms of child, that’s when the development stops. Right until adulthood our brain is continuously changing as well. 

Dan Carter
Because the little amount that I know about mental health issues is in some circumstances it really is the chemicals within the brain that change dramatically, that the brain is affected. Is that correct?

Dr. Traynor
Definitely. I mean I’m a psychologist not a psychiatrist however, definitely a lot of changes are happening in the brain and all the chemicals are happening as well and the neurons and the connections are the things that are happening.

Dan Carter
The reason why I bring this subject matter up is we’ve got parents that are watching us this evening, that may have children that are in high school and then some that are just going into college and university that are saying “I’m seeing changes but I don’t really understand it.” So if you could speak directly to them about maybe they’re own child, is there certain things that they should know about adolescent mental health issues?

Dr. Traynor
Whenever parents come to me I say first of all “you are the expert on your child.” I’m sitting down with the child for a couple of hours and that’s it. So any changes that they see that are not normal for that particular child, again because children are different, then that’s things that they should be concerned about or looking at further.

Dan Carter
Circumstances like, isolation, those kind of things?

Dr. Traynor
Changes in mood. So if you’ve had a happy go-lucky child and all a sudden they become quieter. If you’ve had a very quiet child who suddenly becomes more rambunctious, that’s something to look at. Changes in sleep, changes in appetite, changes in mood. All those different factors are really critical to pay attention to.

Dan Carter
Could it also be an indication, again we’re just speculating, this is the general sense. So I want to kind of preface our comments about it. But it also could be an indication of a struggle with addiction too. Correct?

Dr. Traynor
Definitely.

Dan Carter
That’s not unusual though is it?

Dr. Traynor
No. I mean, definitely there is a time when people are experimenting and different people are using different types of addictive types of substances. Whether it be cigarettes, whether it be alcohol, or drugs, that definitely is a time. However, when it becomes problematic that’s when you need to be concerned.

Dan Carter
Our guest over the last couple of nights talked about the medication aspect of it and that’s the first start, how they started on their journey, but then it developed even more. Is that unusual?

Dr. Traynor
No, definitely not unusual. We hear that a lot from our teenagers.

Dan Carter
So, we’ve got students that are going into college and university, how do we have this conversation about what can we expect, what can we not expect and what can we do. So, we’ve got college and university students that they’re going, “well university and college is really stressful so that’s why my mood is different, that’s why my sleep is different, that’s why I’ve been irritable”.

Dr. Traynor
I think, first of all, ideally it starts before going off. It starts when you’re younger, it starts maybe even a year before when you’re picking out the colleges or universities they may be going to. Knowing your child, is it better maybe they stay closer to home to have the family support that’s needed and the friend support that might be there. So, all these things that lead up, to before you even make that decision. All these discussions should start to take place. Of course parents that have already made the decision and things are already happens that might not have had the conversation before, it doesn’t mean that it’s too late. Of course they can still have this conversation. Talk about what’s to be expected, maybe talk about your own experiences. How did you adjust during this time? What are the supports that are in place? And really play up your child’s strength. I think that’s extremely important too. So, if they are very social then have them lean on their peers and have them talk about how they can utilize that.

Dan Carter
Do you believe that colleges and universities are providing enough services or the right type of outlets that students can reach out to, to be able to get the assistance that they may need?

Dr. Traynor
Unfortunately, I’m not really familiar with each college and what they provide but from my understanding most colleges and universities have a guidance centre. They have a place where kids can go to and at the same time, the kids need to want to go there and that’s where the conversations between parents, with friends, with other people, with professors at universities, that’s where those conversations really need to take place. Or, also education as well, mass education - that these services are available.

Dan Carter
I know that we speak about the individuals suffering from a mental health issue, that it’s kind of up to them to make the first steps but we as friends or family members or parents or professors or our peers, do we have a role?

Dr. Traynor
One hundred per cent. Of course. We can talk to people, we can help them understand that maybe that the behavior that they’re exhibiting, that you’re concerned with, that part of it is normal, and that of course this is a stressful time and that part of it is a period of adjustment and at the same time, part of how they are reacting might be a little bit more extreme than maybe the average person and try and gently guide them into maybe seeking help and maybe making that first phone call for them and say “I’m concerned about someone. Can I bring them in?”

Dan Carter
You know I’m going to use UOIT as an example. I think that on their campus they have 114 different countries that are represented in their student body, which is just massive. When we’re dealing with mental health in some circumstances, citizens from other countries, it’s not talked about as openly. What can we do to help those individuals? Is there a conversation starter? Is there something we can do?

Dr. Traynor
Again I think it’s an education campaign that needs to go out and really needs to talk about those foreign students because they have an added stress. They’re away from their family and possibly a lot further than other people. At the same time, parents can still talk to them, now with Skype and all those different modes that we have, there’s no reason why we have to lose touch with our loved ones that are further away. Definitely bringing up the topic and discussing it and also talking about it in reference to their culture. So different cultures have different ways of approaching mental health and we need to be open to it.

Dan Carter
But some of them don’t talk about it at all.

Dr. Traynor
Yes, but then it’s talked about in different ways. So it’s finding the way that it is talked about for every country. So, it might be talking about it more from a physical level. In some countries the manifestation of mental health is more in synaptic symptoms, so they might be complaining more of headaches or stomach aches or those types of things so talking about it in those languages and how to seek help for those types of issues.

Dan Carter
It is a problematic area because I’ve heard of circumstances where individuals are afraid to ask for help because in their own culture it’s looked upon as a weakness. Let’s just address that, weakness, we hear that a lot. How do you address it when somebody says “well they’re just weak”?

Dr. Traynor
Again, it takes a lot of talking to the person and explaining where the biological basis of a lot of mental health issues and explaining the different ways people cope with stress and what’s happening in their life. It’s really about educating different people about it and working on an individual basis with that person.

Dan Carter
When you sit down across from someone, I’m wondering if you might just entertain me for a few minutes here. How do you go through the process of helping that individual? They arrive through a series of either recommendations through doctors or parents. Take us through what happens when we walk into the doors with you.

Dr. Traynor
Basically, it’s an introduction to what the process is. So first it’s talking about why they are even here. So, what is the reason they are here. Are they dragged in by their mother and that’s the reason why they’re here or are they really here because they feel that they have a particular concern. So, if they’re here on their own volition, it’s talking to them and speaking with them about why they are here. And then it’s also talking about all the different avenues that can be taken. Some people are scared that medication is the only option and I’m going to have to take a pill to feel better. But that’s not true necessarily. There are lots of other avenues and ways that we can help.

Dan Carter
How frustrating is it for the individuals when they sit across from you?

Dr. Traynor
I think it depends upon the individual.

Dan Carter
It differs in each circumstance because each circumstance is different totally. Is that part of the frustration of the illness?

Dr. Traynor
It can be, as well and I think it’s also about finding the right fit. Choosing a therapist is equally as important as trying to treat it. If you don’t find that you’re fitting with your therapist, there are plenty of other therapists that are out there too.

Dan Carter
So that’s a very personal relationship. It really is about being a good listener but it is also about being questionnaire. You know, putting the questions there.

Dr. Traynor
We all have our different personalities as therapists so it’s about finding that fit with someone who can work with you.

Dan Carter
Does it work?

Dr. Traynor
Most definitely. There’s tons of studies that show that definitely talk therapy is extremely helpful in terms of depression, in terms of anxiety and also in terms of addictions.

Dan Carter
Well that does it for tonight. Tomorrow night we will pick up our conversation with Dr. Traynor. We are continuing our discovery on helping individuals that may find themselves in a new community and a new surrounding seeking help when it comes to mental health or addictions issues, more of that interview tomorrow night. Just a reminder, if you want to see this interview in its completion go to Youtube or go to our Facebook page or of course you can always go to channel12.ca. Well, from the whole crew, we hope you have a great night, see you next time. Good night.