Empowering youth to face the challenges of life


LONDON, ON - A team of researchers from Lawson Health Research Institute is conducting a study to examine the benefits of a program using a combination of social-emotional learning skills and breathing techniques for youth at risk of homelessness.

Many youth across Canada are at risk of becoming homeless and about 20 percent of the homeless population cross the country is youth ages 13-24. Evidence suggests that children and youth who have experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences are less likely to be integrated within the community and are at a higher risk of drug use and homelessness. 

“Existing services for youth are fragmented and limited in scope. We have wait lists and therapies can be difficult to access. There is also a shortage of non-pharmacological options for young people,” explains Dr. Javeed Sukhera, Psychiatrist and Lawson Associate Scientist. “For at-risk youth, treatment programs may not have been designed for them or fit their needs. That leads many to fall through the cracks and face significant barriers.” 

At-risk youth have difficulty accessing mental health and social services due to many factors such as stigma and lack of transportation. There are support services available in London including Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) and other similar community organizations, but there may be a role for additional interventions. 

“While it is difficult to change at a system level, it is possible to increase resiliency in these youth to reverse negative outcomes,” explains Dr. Akshya Vasudev, Psychiatrist and Lawson Associate Scientist. 

The Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!), created and taught by the Art of Living Foundation, has been developed for youth to learn skills for stress management, emotion regulation and conflict resolution. “In America, there has been good success from using this program with high school kids. We want to see if this same program could improve resiliency in those considered to be at-risk of homelessness in this region, and lead to improved long-term outcomes such as reintegrating back into the community, reducing drug use and avoiding homelessness,” says Dr. Vasudev.

The research team is looking for about 60 at-risk youth ages 16-25 to enroll in the study and complete the program. They hope this initial pilot study will provide vital information and signal the need for a larger controlled study looking at the feasibility and benefits of this intervention.

“Youth in this transitional age group are one of the most vulnerable members of society, especially if they’ve had adverse childhood experiences” says Dr. Sukhera. “They might not have the emotional skills to do things like hold down a job or manage conflict in relationships, and develop habits that result in negative outcomes. Learning life skills in a way that is tailored to them in a safe, confidential and supportive environment could make a big difference.” 

There are two major components to YES! training that can be implemented into everyday life: social-emotional learning (SEL) skills and breathing techniques for energy and stress management referred to as Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY).

SEL skills help people understand and manage their emotions, build successful relationships, and deal with life stressors in a positive and constructive way. Through games, activities and interactive discussions, YES! is designed to strengthen skills in the areas of self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

SKY refers to a collection of 3 breathing techniques that have been taught by certified instructors from the Art of Living Foundation to over 5,000,000 people around the world. SKY breathing has been shown to improve mood, mental focus and wellbeing. It also boosts immune, hormone and cardiovascular system functioning.

“We want to empower youth so that they can use these skills while harnessing their own abilities. The program can ignite their self-confidence and help them get out of the rut of negative thinking, anxious living, lack of good quality sleep, and use of alcohol and other substances. They are learning skills to face the challenges of life,” adds Dr. Vasudev. 

The next program starts this month. Youth interested in participating can contact Emily at 519-685-8500 ext. 74912 or @email for more details. 


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About Lawson Health Research Institute

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit www.lawsonresearch.ca.

Media Contacts
Celine Zadorsky

Communications Consultant & External Relations
Lawson Health Research Institute
T: 519-685-8500 ext. 75664
C. 519-619-3872