By Erica Sourtzis, RSW, Youth Program Coordinator, Serenity Renewal for Families


There is unprecedented demand for mental health and addiction services for teens, in Canada. Emergency room visits are up, hospital stays have increased and the number of young individuals seeking care has risen dramatically. Serenity Renewal for Families, an Alta Vista-based charity offering counseling and educational programs to assist young people experiencing emotional challenges, served close to a thousand new clients, in 2017.

Adolescence is one of the most difficult transitional periods in life. Recent data from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is indicative of that. 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health or addiction problem this year, with young people aged 15 to 24 more likely to experience mental illness and substance use disorders than any other age group.

The transition to young adulthood is characterized by extreme developmental shifts which include; a) physical changes, b) the development of abstract thought, c) existential dilemmas such as needing a sense of meaning and purpose, d) a need for both independence and support from adults, and e) a desire for intimacy and connection with others, in particular from their peer group (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). It is a struggle for a sense of identity and an exploration and questioning of values, beliefs, and goals previously accepted by parents and others.

Counseling teenagers can be tricky. With adolescents naturally drawn to creative mediums, such as music, art, and play, counselors must equip themselves with a variety of creative techniques and programs that resonate and encourage both verbal and nonverbal expression in a way that is therapeutic.

PhotoVoice is such an innovative program. In its fourth year at Serenity Renewal for Families, PhotoVoice teaches the technical elements of photography while enhancing mental wellness. It is a fun and popular program that promotes creativity and empowers participants to express difficult emotions and life challenges through photography.

The PhotoVoice curriculum includes presentations on mental health, self-esteem, self-care and relevant, available community resources. It also allows for considerable group discussion, enabling participants to build connections and discuss pertinent issues affecting youth such as managing stress, coping with peer pressure, relationships and additional topics the group chooses. Sharing experiences has the dual purpose of facilitating social support, as well as yielding practical strategies that participants can use to cope with challenges in their lives. The program culminates with a photo exhibition for family and friends featuring some of the outstanding photography work from participants.

Many young Canadians in need of professional assistance do not access specialized services. For 35 years, Serenity Renewal for Families has provided an open door and welcoming environment for area children, youth and families impacted by addiction, emotional and relational challenges.

Erica Sourtzis counsels and facilitates children & youth programs for Serenity Renewal for Families, an Alta Vista Charity that assists families affected by addiction and other impactful issues. To learn more or to donate to families needing help, call (613) 523-5143 or visit