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FRIENDS for Life

Resilience-building and anxiety prevention

Kelly Angelius

Reprinted from "Treatment for Young People" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3 (1), p. 30-31

The FRIENDS for Life program, developed in Australia, is a world-leading early intervention and prevention program. Evidence shows that FRIENDS for Life reduces the risk of anxiety disorders and builds resilience (emotional strength) in children. The research shows that up to 80% of children showing signs of anxiety no longer display those signs for up to six years after completing the FRIENDS program. For children who are not anxious, research shows that FRIENDS significantly increases their level of self esteem while reducing their feelings of worry and depression.

Anxiety is the most prevalent of all mental disorders in children and youth, affecting nearly 7% of children in BC. This is approximately 65,000 children. Anxiety disorders are often difficult to detect and if left untreated may develop over years into adult anxiety disorders or, in many cases, depression.

The good news is that the FRIENDS program is being offered to grades four and five students throughout the province, in support of the Child and Youth Mental Health Plan for British Columbia.2 It was introduced as a pilot project in seven school districts in the spring of 2004. Based on the success of this pilot project, FRIENDS was launched throughout the province in the 2004/2005 school year. The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, is now moving FRIENDS into its third year of implementation. To date, over 45 school districts and many independent and private schools are involved—exposing over 47,000 BC children to the program.

FRIENDS is based on a cognitive-behavioural model, which addresses cognitive (mind), physiological (body) and learning (behaviour) processes that contribute to anxiety and depression. FRIENDS helps children to identify the thoughts they have about themselves and others, and teaches them how to talk positively to themselves (mind). FRIENDS also addresses the physical reactions our bodies experience when we are feeling worried, nervous or afraid, by teaching children how to respond to body clues through awareness and relaxation activities (body). Finally, FRIENDS teaches children new skills (behaviour) such as problem-solving, rewarding self and facing fears.

FRIENDS has been designed for use in classrooms. Teachers guide students through a 10week series of activities, including home-based assignments, designed to help them manage their feelings and teach them how to cope with worry and difficult situations. At the end of the program the children can keep their FRIENDS workbook for future reference. They are reminded of the skills they have learned through the acronym “FRIENDS,” which stands for:

  • Feelings
  • Remember to relax
  • I can do it
  • Explore solutions and coping step plans
  • Now reward yourself! You've done your best!
  • D'ont forget to practise
  • Smile. Stay calm

All children experience anxiety and worries as part of their normal development. What we also know is that some children cope with difficult situations in more effective ways than others. This is why the program is being implemented to all grade four and five students— so all children can benefit from the important life skills taught in FRIENDS.

Of equal importance is that parents and caregivers are also included. MCFD contracted the FORCE Society for Kids’ Mental Health to introduce the parent portion of the program into school districts throughout BC. The FRIENDS parent training program was offered at 15 locations in the 2005/2006 school year, and will be offered at another 15 locations in 2006/2007. This component serves as both a networking and a learning opportunity for parents whose children are receiving the FRIENDS program. Not only do parents become aware of the tools and life skills that their children are learning through FRIENDS, but the parents also learn how best to support their children in using these skills at home. Parents learn how to recognize and respond to signs of anxiety not only in their children, but also within themselves.

 
About the Author

Kelly lives in Victoria and is Manager of the FRIENDS for Life program in BC. She has worked for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Child and Youth Mental Health (CYMH), for the past 11 years. Kelly has also been a Provincial CYMH Consultant and a CYMH Clinician.

To learn more about the FRIENDS for Life program in BC, visit www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/ mental_health/index.htm, or e-mail Kelly at MCF.CYMHFRIENDS @gov.bc.ca

Footnotes
  1. FRIENDS for Life. (Feb 2006). FRIENDS for Life evidence base extracts. www.friendsinfo.net/ downloads/FRIENDS AbstractsBooklet.pdf

  2. Ministry of Children and Family Development. (2003). Child and Youth Mental Health Plan for British Columbia. Victoria, BC: Author.

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