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Youth voices transforming mental health

Posted September 28, 2021 in Bell Let's Talk by 0

As part of our blog series with Bell Let’s Talk and the Graham Boeckh Foundation, we’re exploring how the Integrated Youth Services (IYS) movement is transforming youth mental health in Canada through the perspectives of youth, families and service providers involved in IYS initiatives around Canada. One of the primary ways IYS is transforming youth mental health is through youth hubs; a one-stop-shop for young people to access barrier-free and youth-friendly support. Youth hubs bring together mental health, addiction, social services and other supports and services under one roof so youth ages 12 – 25 and their families can get the help they need, when and where they need it.

A fundamental philosophy of IYS initiatives is that young people and their families play an important role in designing services. Youth advisors across the country are involved in creating and shaping the services at local IYS hubs and sites through youth advisory committees. 

We connected with 4 passionate youth leaders who serve as advisors for their local IYS hub. Read their interviews below to learn about the work they are doing in their communities and how IYS, guided by youth, is meeting the needs of young people. 

Cade Desjarlais, British Columbia
Youth Advisory Council Member, Foundry Kelowna

What motivated you to get involved with the youth advisory group to help shape mental health services offered at Foundry Kelowna?

My own personal experiences have deeply influenced my involvement in youth mental health advocacy and awareness. These personal experiences and my love of learning quickly allowed me to grow passionate about this type of work. This led me to explore all the different channels through which I could help make a difference. I have struggled with my own mental health, as many students do, and getting passionate about shaping mental health services was a way for me to not only give back to my community but to also learn a great deal about myself.

Why is it important to you that young people like you have a voice in how mental health supports are developed for youth?

Young people oftentimes have a very different perspective from their parents and older generations about obstacles they face. The age of social media has formed a vastly different social landscape than that of even just a few years ago and this has created new challenges never yet seen before. Young people are at the forefront of these changes and thus a partnership with youth is necessary to adequately understand these shifts and address them thoughtfully and effectively. Our understanding of mental health is constantly changing and it is crucial that youth have the ability to voice these changes along with their concerns.

Studies show that COVID-19 has posed unique challenges on the mental health of youth. Why is it important that young people have been able to access the supports of a youth hub during this time?

COVID-19 proved to be more isolating than anyone could have initially imagined. Accessing mental health supports has always been plagued with stigma and the added division of a strictly online world did not make access of these resources any easier. Although online resources have proved to be very beneficial, each individual has their own level of comfort with using an online support system and ensuring easy access is of utmost importance. Mental health resources can not only be eye-opening, but also life-saving.

What has been the most rewarding or inspiring aspect of your involvement as a youth advisor?

Working as a youth advisor is fulfilling because you can learn a lot and see how your time directly impacts your community. For example, in my time with Foundry Kelowna, my youth committee spent time advising on the mobile mental health clinic called Foundry Kelowna’s Wellness on Wheels. From day one, our input was taken into account, and when the program finally rolled out, we could see design aspects and ideas that were given by our very own youth advisors. It was a ground-breaking project and to have a hand in it was truly rewarding. I find I am far more invested in my community after working as a youth advisor. In addition to this, there are endless opportunities that you can find as you work as a youth advisor; from training orientations, conferences, travel, schooling, to future jobs, your involvement can be your link to even more experiences.

Yumna Farooq, Ontario
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigenous Reconciliation Coordinator, The Grove Wellington, Guelph

What motivated you to get involved with the youth advisory group to help shape mental health services offered at The Grove Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario?

What motivated me to get involved was also what motivated me to study Child and Youth Care. As a youth, I found that I did not feel represented, accommodated, and I did not receive adequate services when I needed them. Although I cannot go back and change the way things used to be, I am very passionate when it comes to ensuring current and future youth are able to access adequate programming and services, and that the barriers to accessing mental health services are minimized.

Why is it important to you that young people like you have a voice in how mental health supports are developed for youth?

I think it is very important for youth from underserved groups to have a voice in how mental health supports are developed. The diversity in our general population is increasing, however, services continue to be of most benefit to a certain demographic. If these services are meant to help all youth, it is important that they accommodate and cater to the diverse needs present within communities. This means that youth should be provided opportunities to share with service providers what they require, want to see, and what would encourage them to utilize services.

Studies show that COVID-19 has posed unique challenges on the mental health of youth. Why is it important that young people have been able to access the supports of a youth hub during this time?

COVID-19 has left youth feeling isolated and alone at such an important time of their lives in relation to their development. It is vital that youth services are accessible, to provide youth with the care that they need in these times.

What has been the most rewarding or inspiring aspect of your involvement as a youth advisor?

I think one of the most rewarding aspects is the fact that I get to work to directly improve a community I was raised in, to ensure youth do not experience the same difficulties I did. Another rewarding aspect was the opportunity I had to work with a diverse group of people, who have taught me so much in term of equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigenous reconciliation. 

Anthony Faustin, Québec
Youth committee member, Aire ouverte Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux du Nord-de-l’Ile-de-Montréal (CIUSSS NIM)

What motivated you to get involved with the youth committee to help shape the mental health services offered at Aire ouverte?

The members of the youth committee have joined forces with the staff at the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’Île to create an environment that is shaped by youth to meet the health and social services needs of young people. For me, it’s a first and it’s my source of motivation at Aire ouverte.

Why is it important to you that young people like you have a voice in how mental health supports are developed for youth?

You don’t find out about the different aspects of mental health only from books. You’ve also got to go out in the field. Things change, needs evolve. Young people are at the heart of change and their voices need to be heard to be able to keep supports and services on course, especially during COVID.

Studies show that COVID-19 has posed unique challenges on the mental health of youth. Why is it important that young people have been able to access the supports of a youth hub like Aire ouverte during this time?

A service such as Aire ouverte represents the best solution, unlike the existing services, which don’t always inspire confidence in young people and aren’t always suited to their needs. For example, there are many taboos around health and social services in the different communities.

What has been the most rewarding or inspiring aspect of your involvement as a youth advisor?

Being the pioneer of a revolutionary project that helps future generations, working together with a number of advisors and a wide variety of people, and the intergenerational work are more than rewarding for me. I can’t wait to see the end result of the groundwork we’ve been laying for future services for young people.

Gabby Urgel, New Brunswick
National Youth Council member, ACCESS Open Minds

What motivated you to get involved with the National Youth Council to help shape mental health services offered at ACCESS Open Minds youth hubs around the country?

For me, I got involved with ACCESS Open Minds’ National Youth Council because it became evident that within New Brunswick, we needed to bring youth voices to the table when it comes to mental health policy and service implementation. In a way, it was something that I could do to make sure that the people within my community are getting their mental health needs met.

Why is it important to you that young people like you have a voice in how mental health supports are developed for youth?

It’s important for youth to get involved in how mental health supports are developed and implemented because we are the most important stakeholder in how these services are delivered. We are the ones that will be using these services, and we are experts in mental health through lived experience. We cannot allow our experiences to be discounted in favour of exclusively using knowledge gained through formal education. When youth aren’t allowed a voice at the table in how mental health supports are developed and implemented, they become disenfranchised.

Studies show that COVID-19 has posed unique challenges on the mental health of youth. Why is it important that young people have been able to access the supports of a youth hub during this time?

Seeing youth access supports through youth hubs throughout the pandemic has shown me that these services are critical. These sorts of services provide upstream approaches to mental health and allow youth to get mental health help before they reach a point where they are in crisis. Research from one service site showed that for every dollar invested in ACCESS Open Minds, approximately $10 was saved in other health care costs for youth (source).

What has been the most rewarding or inspiring aspect of your involvement as a youth advisor?

The most inspiring aspect of my involvement as a youth advisor is seeing people from across the country work together and collaborate on a better future for other youth. It’s rewarding to know that others share the same sentiments of wanting to better the mental health system. Thank you to Anthony, Cade, Gabby and Yumna for sharing their perspectives and to all the youth advisors helping to shape mental health and wellness services for young people across Canada!


Stay tuned next month for another blog in this series.Check out our previous posts about transforming youth mental health in New Brunswick and connecting culture and wellness in Eskasoni First Nation.

The $10 million national Bell-Graham Boeckh Foundation Partnership was launched in March 2020 to help accelerate the delivery of mental health and wellness services through Integrated Youth Services (IYS) hubs across Canada. To learn more about how IYS hubs are helping young Canadians get the support they need, watch this video.

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