Youth Mental Health—Exploring the Education Program Landscape
Paula Vaisey, MSc
Reprinted from "Young People" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 9 (2), pp. 27-31
Having only worked at CMHA’s BC Division for six months, I have been familiarizing myself with the youth mental health landscape here in BC and across Canada. I’ve encountered many exciting, original and meaningful youth mental health education programs, and thought I’d share some of the provincial and national programs that are accessible to young people in BC.
BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information programs
AnxietyBC programs are focused on increasing awareness of anxiety disorders and promoting education and evidence-based treatments. Trained clinicians present full-day workshops to teachers and parents on how to recognize anxiety disorders and apply tools that help manage anxiety. An annual “Info-Nite” in Vancouver has evolved into mini-sessions held throughout the year. The AnxietyBC website provides a self-help-based resource for youth that addresses all the major anxiety disorders and teaches management strategies. It features an “Anxiety 101” quiz and sections on facing fears, thinking right, ways to chill, healthy habits and common problems.
“Our youth website is designed to be engaging and interactive, giving youth real tools to learn about and manage this human condition called anxiety. It’s been great to not only build a great website for young people, but to also have a mobile App to bring the tools out into the world.”
—Arto Tienaho, Executive Director
Beyond the Blues: Depression Anxiety Education and Screening Day
A program of the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
Every October this mental health awareness campaign provides a day of community events held across BC, many of which target young people. Participants can learn more about well-being, depression, anxiety and risky drinking by filling out screening self-tests and then meeting briefly with a clinician to have a conversation about the results and next steps. Events are free, anonymous and drop-in. The program has helped 66,000 people since 1995 and two-thirds of those screened now are under 25. Beyond the Blues is free to implement and there are a range of tools available to support local agencies wanting to run successful, engaging events for young people.
“The opportunity to validate what a youth is experiencing, recognize their skills and strengths, inform them of other resources, and connect them to further help if needed is priceless.”
—Youth event participant
FORCE Society for Kids Mental Health, Youth in Residence
The FORCE Society supports and empowers families, and works collaboratively with professionals and systems that service youth mental health toward understanding and meeting the mental health needs of families. The FORCE provides families with an opportunity to speak with other families who understand and may be able to offer support or advice on what has worked for them. It also provides families and professionals with information, tools and tips on how to support and assist children with mental health difficulties. Two Youth in Residence (YiR) act as navigators, provide support for young people and share mental health information with families and youth.
“The essence of the FORCE’s Youth in Residence (YiR) role is to provide support to youth living with mental health challenges in a way that builds capacity and resiliency, and inspires hope and a ‘way forward.’ They offer peer support with compassion, understanding, powerful listening and, at times, a sharing of their own
—Christie Durnin, Program Manager
At the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) at the University of Victoria
iMinds is a drug-related health literacy program designed for students in grades four to 10. Each module of the program features easy-to-implement lesson plans that help students develop the knowledge and skills they need to survive and thrive in our drug-using world. Rather than overloading youth with health information or trying to scare them away from using drugs, the lessons encourage students to both express their thoughts and think critically about their current drug-related beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. They also learn about and discuss ways to address problems related to health and drug use that may arise in themselves, their families or their communities.
“The success of health literacy programs such as iMinds rests on the fact that they help young people understand the world around them and take control of their own lives.”
—Dan Reist, Assistant Director, Knowledge Exchange
Jessie’s Legacy Eating Disorders Prevention Program
At Family Services of the North Shore
Named after Jessie Alexander, a North Shore girl who took her life due to complications surrounding her eating disorder, Jessie’s Legacy provides eating disorders prevention education, resources and support for BC youth, families, educators and professionals. Services and resources are primarily web-based. The program facilitates an Eating Disorder Support Group for parents, partners and friends of those struggling with an eating disorder; group members can participate either in person or via teleconference. In addition, Jessie’s Legacy provides media watch, online and telephone support, and psychoeducation groups for parents.
“In a society that is so often silent and judgmental of eating disorders, depression and other mental conditions, I will dedicate much of my future to spreading the word: there is help, there is hope, and there will always be people who care and understand. I cannot thank you enough.”
—Appreciative participant in the Jessie’s Legacy program
A program of the BC Schizophrenia Society
ReachOut uses music, slam poetry and fun to break down barriers that exist around psychosis and to increase the chances of early intervention. ReachOut is a brain-science-based ‘edutainment’ program using professional music and comedy performers to engage students in how to spot early signs of psychosis and get effective help early. It’s offered free of charge to audiences of 300 or more throughout BC, primarily in school assemblies during the school year. This program and its evaluation evidence was featured in a presentation at the 2012 International Early Psychosis Association conference.
“ReachOut’s youth and teacher interventions shorten the time between a young person first experiencing psychosis symptoms and when they get effective help. This drastically improves outcomes for people with psychosis, so that their life is disrupted as little as possible by this brain condition.”
—Sophia Kelly, Manager, Reaching Families and ReachOut Psychosis projects
Other BC-wide programs serving youth
A program of the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
Blue Wave’s mission is to increase awareness, encourage solutions, foster hope and end the stigma of mental illness. Its main focus is Living Life to the Full, a mental health promotion skills course for use with teenagers that will be adapted from the existing program for adults and then taught by young adult facilitators in youth settings. Its aim is to prevent mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Blue Wave also offers a new bursary for youth who have experienced a mental health or substance use problem and are going on to higher education.
“There’s so much resilience in youth that we’re just not talking about or nurturing. We want to create a future where we have fewer worst-case scenarios—where young people have skills to feel good about themselves, bounce back from stress, and know where to turn for help.”
—Bev Gutray, Chief Executive Officer
Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre
The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre provides information and resources for children, youth and families across BC who have mental health and substance use concerns. The centre offers help from professionals, an eating disorders peer support worker, and parent and youth support workers from the FORCE Society for Kids’ Mental Health. There are options for support and treatment, tips for self-help, and free educational events. Support is provided over the phone, by email or in person.
“In addition to offering peer support to youth, we try to think of innovative ways to connect with and engage youth in an authentic way. We value the perspective of youth and provide opportunities for them to get involved though initiatives like our Youth Ambassador Program, Youth Summit, videos and events throughout the year.”
—Brent Seal, Youth in Residence based at Kelty Mental Health
A partnership between Fraser Health and BC Mental Health and Addiction Services
The mindcheck.ca website is designed to assist young people in identifying and understanding mental distress they may be experiencing. The site provides tools and strategies to manage these problems and access to helping resources. On the “Speak Up” page, young people can add their ‘voice’ on mental health and can learn from other young people. Since January 2012, over 178,000 people have visited the website and 73,000 people have taken a quiz to see how they’re doing.
“I thought I might be depressed, but I was so embarrassed and ashamed to admit it and look for help. This is the first time I’ve felt like it’s okay to be depressed. I am not alone, and there are ways to get over it. Because of mindcheck.ca, I feel like there is hope and lots of help.”
SpeakBOX primarily uses Facebook and Twitter to build a community where new ideas on mental health education and promotion can be shared and developed. The fall 2013 pilot for the Amped Voice program plans to empower youth to lead the discussion of mental health in their schools.Students also have the opportunity to connect with other students across BC and collaborate on ideas beyond their school. The goal is to create employment opportunities for young people with lived experience.
“What makes SpeakBOX unique is the involvement of people with lived mental health experience in all levels of the organization. SpeakBOX is built from youth voices, led by youth voices, and continues to learn from youth voices.”
—Aidan Scott, Founder
Youth in BC
A program of the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC (Crisis Centre)
YouthInBC.com provides an online crisis service where youth can chat one-on-one with a trained volunteer from the Crisis Centre. Youth are invited to discuss many different issues without judgment: suicide, sexuality, depression and stress, relationship conflicts and much more. There is a website with information about a number of youth-related issues, which also includes resources such as a list of organizations and websites where young people can get help.
“Our YouthInBC.com online distress chat is available noon to 1a.m., seven days a week. It gives young people (ages 12 to 24) the opportunity to talk one-on-one with a Crisis Centre volunteer about their complex lives and to learn aboute resources for support in their local community. In 2013, more than 175,000 people in our province will directly, and indirectly, benefit from this innovative program.”
—Stephanie Cardwell, Development and Communications Coordinator
National programs serving youth
Kids Help Phone
Kids Help Phone provides kids, teens and young adults with anonymous and confidential professional counselling, referrals and information in English and French, through various media. Canadian youth can call or go online 24/7 to reach a Kids Help Phone professional counsellor. Counsellors have access to a database of over 37,000 local resources, so no matter where a young person is calling from the counsellor can connect them to a service right in their community.
“At Kids Help Phone, we often hear kids saying ‘I’m scared’ or ‘I don’t have any control over what’s happening to me.’ If we focus on helping young people gain a sense of power in their lives, it can be the first step in changing their mental health.”
—Alain Johnson, Clinical Director, French Language Services
Mental Health First Aid
A program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada
The Mental Health First Aid Canada for Adults Who Interact with Youth course trains adults to recognize and understand the signs and symptoms of mental health problems in youth, provide initial help, and guide a young person toward appropriate help. It focuses on mental health problems such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, substance use disorders, eating disorders and deliberate self-injury. Crises can potentially be avoided by administering ‘first aid’ until treatment is found or the crisis is resolved.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people taking the MHFA youth-focused course over the past two years, a sign that the challenge of youth mental health can no longer be ignored. Our hope for the future is that every young person experiencing a mental health problem is within reach of mental health first aid.”
—Meaghon Reid, Director
A program of Family Service Thames Valley in London, Ontario
Mindyourmind.ca is an award winning site for youth and young adults to get information, resources and tools to help them manage stress, crises and mental health problems. The site includes web apps, interactive coping tools, self-management tools and stress busters. Their new mood-tracking app ‘mindyourmood’ enables a young person to record how they’re feeling for display in a way that both they and their therapist, doctor, parent or peer can understand.
“Mindyourmind engages youth to ‘reach out, get help and give help.’ It is a non-profit program, nationally accessible online, that engages and involves youth and emerging adults to co-develop relevant resources and partnerships. The goal is to reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses, increase coping and increase the
access to, and use of, formal and
—Christine Garinger, Research and Evaluation Lead
Teen Mental Health
A program of the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Teen Mental Health aims to improve the mental health of youth by effectively translating and sharing scientific knowledge to improve the understanding of adolescent mental health and mental disorders. The Sun Life team uses the best evidence available to develop application-ready training programs, publications and resources. Materials include animations, face-to-face training programs, web-based training programs, and easy-to-understand guides and books designed specifically for youth, parents, educators and health providers.
“We demonstrate results in improving knowledge, reducing stigma and enhancing help-seeking behaviour. We believe that collaboration with like-minded organizations will bring lasting benefit to youth and families living with mental disorders.”
—Dr. Stan Kutcher, Chair Holder
The Jack Project
The Jack Project supports and informs youth to help ease their transition from high school into higher education or independent living. Their schools-based mental health outreach program held over 100 workshops and presentations during its pilot year. They also provided over $350,000 to Kids Help Phone for the development of ‘Live Chat,’ so youth can instantly message a counsellor, and for the ‘Always There’ mobile app, so youth can access Kids Help Phone on their mobile device.
“There is so much work to be done on the mental health awareness front. At The Jack Project we’re very focused on true youth engagement and an approach that encourages young people to become comfortable with, and take ownership of, their mental health.”
—Eric Windeler, Founder
About the author
Paula is Youth Engagement Coordinator with the Blue Wave Youth Mental Health Program at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division. She has worked extensively with youth and families in the UK on projects related to youth voice, emotional resilience, cognitive-behavioural therapy and kinship care