MONTREAL -- There is an increasing number of teenagers experiencing psychological distress, according to Quebec's Fondation Jeunes en Tête.

"At the moment, one out of every two young people in high school is facing issues of anxiety and major depression," said Foundation President Mélanie Boucher.

The debate of young people's mental health has received a lot of attention since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and there have been growing concerns about the negative impacts lockdowns and home-schooling could have on them.

While the pandemic has certainly played a role, Boucher points out it's wrong to assume this is the only reason why teens are in distress. She points out that half of all mental health issues begin before the age of 14.

"The past year has indeed had a significant impact on the mental health of our youth," she said. "Mental health issues are on the rise. The pandemic has amplified this, but it's not a new issue. It's always been there and we've always had challenges helping our youth."

The foundation says it has plans to reach 100,000 young people in 2021-2022 to raise awareness and provide them with the necessary tools to deal with mental health issues.

It offers workshops to teenagers in schools across the province, led by young adults in their twenties -- a small age gap officials hope could encourage confidence and open dialogue.

Some of the workshops teach teenagers how to maintain their mental health on a daily basis. Some examples include getting fresh air, focusing on the present moment or confiding in someone they trust.

Others teach them how to identify psychological distress in people around them: behavioural changes, loss of appetite or interest in usual activities, sleep disturbances or even disinterest in friends and relatives.

"Our facilitators received a lot of good feedback from the teens at the end of the workshops," said Boucher. "That's when we realized young people weren't even aware -- they didn't even know what they were going through. They didn't even realize they can take charge and make decisions to prioritize their mental health."

Boucher stresses almost three-quarters of young people experiencing depression don't dare talk about it for fear of rejection or judgment so they suffer in silence. Prevention, she states, is the key to helping them.

"It is important to act now," she warned. "Young people need us. Mental health issues are not going to go away when the pandemic ends. It will continue."

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2021.