Throughout this global pandemic, Big Brothers Big Sisters programs continued to reach and support young people and their families across Canada. With country-wide health regulations that urged Canadians to practice physical distancing and stay home, Big Brothers Big Sisters locations across the country responded with new and digital mediums to keep kids connected to their Mentors. Because of our quick pivot and response to the pandemic, Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentees were more protected from the negative impacts of this pandemic than their peers.
In the summer 2020, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada partnered with researchers from York University (Drs. Craig and Pepler) and the University of Victoria (Dr. Ames) on a collaborative research project- ‘Building Bigger Connections’. The aim was to help Big Brothers Big Sisters understand how Mentees were functioning in terms of their mental health and relationships during COVID-19 in comparison to non-Big Brothers Big Sisters youth.
The findings were clear:
- Youth who had regular contact with their Mentors reported feeling more supported and less isolated, worried or anxious
than non-Big Brothers Big Sisters youth.
- Non-Big Brothers Big Sisters youth were more likely to report significant symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentees reported more inequities compared to non-Big Brothers Big Sisters youth, inequalities like less household income and racialization, however, despite these disadvantages, Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentees reported better mental health.
These results suggest that being a Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentee may provide protective factors against some mental health problems. This is a significant finding and points to the preventive and protective power of mentoring. Our research is aligned with the other national research studies that have proven that mentoring programs can increase positive mental health, increase cultural connectedness and support academic commitment.
As Canada rebuilds after this pandemic, the research encourages us to work collectively to make mentorship accessible to all young people facing adversities and provide them with the support they require for positive mental health and well-being.