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LETTER: A dollar a day for youth mental health

Mental health walk-in clinics are also available across the province.
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Even though we’re both from Newfoundland and Labrador, you might think that’s where the similarities end, since one of us is a musician-songwriter and the other is president and CEO of a pan-Canadian mental health organization. But beyond our hometown roots, we share the belief in the power of stories to offer hope and healing.

That belief is a powerful thing when it comes to mental health.

Sharing stories of recovery from mental illness opens the door to difficult conversations, a process that can shatter stigma — the negative attitudes and behaviours that prevent people from seeking help.

Sharing stories is simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

It takes a lot of courage to decide that your truth is more important than the misguided judgment of others. It takes a strong sense of self to recognize you can show others a way forward while knowing that the decision to follow that path is theirs alone. It takes a humble spirit to acknowledge that recurrence is a part of the journey and doesn’t equal failure.

When we consider the chasm between the lack of services and the needs of people experiencing mental illness, we can’t overlook the power of shared experience to carry the message that recovery is possible — and should be expected.

Harnessing that power is where our two paths came together.

The Headstrong youth anti-stigma summits, championed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, are guided by evidence showing that students who hear testimonies from people living in recovery from mental illness are more likely to overcome their biases and become vocal advocates for mental health in their schools.

The Headstrong program has a proven outcome and is easy to replicate. It also fits the criteria set out by the A Dollar A Day Foundation, which works with organizations to bring front-line mental health services to communities across the country. A perfect partnership was born.

The dollar a day notion arose from the recognition that everyone is affected by mental health and addictions. There are zero degrees of separation. The A Dollar A Day Foundation provides a simple, affordable, and empowering way to support front-line mental health and addictions programs. Everyone gives a little — a dollar a day. But the foundation puts that small change to work for big change: a social movement that raises our collective voices to give mental health services a boost across the country.

The Headstrong summits underscore that there’s value in successfully navigating a major life challenge like a mental illness. This is especially significant when forty per cent of parents say they wouldn’t tell anyone — not even their family doctor — if their child was experiencing a mental health problem.

That statistic has serious social and economic ramifications. The longer young people wait to seek help, the bigger the impact on their engagement at school. This in turn can affect their post-secondary education and career goals. The more seriously ill a young person becomes, the greater the likelihood that their families will feel an emotional and financial drain.

By hearing from peers and others in recovery, young people at Headstrong summits realize it’s okay to ask for help. The program also shows them how and where to get that help, while building a skill set to support friends and loved ones. Its approach is resonating across the country — and it’s been especially well received within Indigenous communities.

With Indigenous mental health and wellness needs at an all-time high, Headstrong turns the narrative around, letting students hear positive stories of hope and recovery. Former Mrs. Universe, model, actor, and Indigenous activist Ashley Callingbull is one of the many speakers who bring such stories to these summits. In the 50 or so Headstrong sessions planned for 2019-2020, half will be in Indigenous communities.

The Headstrong summits aren’t just “nice-to-dos.” Getting young people to speak up and seek help early can lower the costs associated with mental illness, whose annual price tag is upwards of $50 billion.

Help us bring these anti-stigma summits to every high school in the country — opening minds to recovery and opening doors to those in need.

Let’s all reach into our pockets and find a dollar a day for youth mental health.

Alan Doyle

and Louise Bradley, CEO and president, Mental Health Commission of Canada

Related story:

A Dollar A Day foundation launches in St. John's, aims to change front lines of mental health

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