- Mental Health
- Substance Use
- Healthy Living
April 28th, 2015 was a special day for me. On that day, I got to be a part of Southpointe Academy’s mini-Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit on mental health. An auditorium filled with hundreds of students from Southpointe Academy and other private schools from the Vancouver area gathered for an unbelievable day of learning, sharing, and promoting mental health. The event included a series of engaging and eye-opening presentations from community leaders in mental health, a panel discussion of high school youth, a resource fair full of organizations from across the province, and student led break-out sessions to continue the conversation. It was an overwhelming success – you could feel the energy in the audience by the end of the day. However, as amazing as that sounds, you still may wonder what made it so special. This is not the first event of its kind, so why was it so important to me?
To truly answer that question, a little background about myself is necessary. I’ve been speaking, volunteering, and working in mental health for only a few years now. Compared to some, that’s not long at all. But throughout my work, no matter where I went, I met “champions” for mental health along the way. Whether it was a student, parent, teacher, or counselor; every school and community had people who were truly dedicated to changing the stigma around mental health and creating a safe place where students could work towards their goals of mental wellness. I met countless young people who blew me away with the strength, maturity, and perspective they showed in facing their own mental health challenges. They told me how much it meant to them to have an environment where they could feel comfortable and supported sharing their own stories, and how much they wanted to create that environment other students in their schools. I met teachers, counselors, and parents who worked tirelessly to create a safe place where students could share their mental health challenges and get the support they needed. Yet, after every speaking engagement or event I found myself wondering what is going to happen now that this is over. What happens after these students leave the room? What happens to the progress we made? How do we keep the momentum going?
This is why the Southpointe event was so special: it represented the momentum I’ve long been waiting to see. After attending the Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit at Rogers Arena (read about the February event here!), the students at Southpointe decided to take matters into their own hands. They wanted to host and organize their own event to promote mental health. They wanted to share their own stories, help others open up, and create a safe space for mental health that would persist long after most had graduated from school. They wanted to “rebrand” mental health. Most of all, they wanted to see change, and they were going to be the ones to do it.
The best part is that all of this happened organically. There weren’t any teachers, adults, or organizations that asked these students to do this – they were inspired and wanted to continue the momentum themselves. After spending time volunteering, speaking, and helping organize events, I knew young people like the group at Southpointe existed. But it wasn’t until attending the event that I realized the momentum had started to take on a life of its own. Here I was, at one of the largest youth summits I’ve had the honour of attending, all because a group of students decided it was time to take action themselves.
At the end of the day, I had a conversation with Brent Seal (the MC at the event and a huge part of Balancing Our Minds at Rogers Arena) about ripples. We knew we had made a “splash” with Balancing Our Minds back in February, but you can never tell what those ripples will turn in to. That’s why the event at Southpointe seemed to really hit home. It carried the momentum from back in February and turned it into so much more. They decided to carry the conversation about mental health back to their own school, and did it in magnificent fashion. Imagine the ripples created at Southpointe that day. Imagine if other students took change into their own hands.
I remember the days when most of my speaking engagements at schools were mandatory assemblies. I remember speaking at schools in the evenings and 90% of the audience was parents and teachers – despite the fact the event was organized for students. I remember feeling like we were swimming against the current. Despite all the wonderful and dedicated people I met along the way, momentum felt like it was hard to come by. Now, I found myself standing in a room full of hundreds of brimming and engaged young faces – all there to talk about mental health, and all there because of their fellow students. All I could do is smile. THIS was the momentum I had been waiting for.