The theme at Rethink Mental Health Incorporated in November is Youth Mental Health, and who better to advise on the mental health needs of youth, than young people themselves! As such, we interviewed some of our adolescent Mental Health Advocates to hear from the source what needs to be done to support youth mental health and what is being done by youth for advocate for their peers. In this article, our Advocate, Megan Jacques shares her opinions and actions, including serving as co-chair of Children First Canada’s Youth Advisory Council.
Why is mental health awareness, education and advocacy for youth important?
I think that mental health awareness, education and advocacy for youth is very important because we are the future of our society. Therefore, it’s primordial that kids and teens know what good mental health is and how to take care of one another. In addition, when we’re young, we are still building our view of the world, hence it’s the perfect moment to debunk stigmas before they get imprinted our heads, especially that during teenage years bullying become an important issue. That has an impact on the important of mental health education in two ways: often mental illnesses are used in vain as insults or are distinguished in an attempt to humiliate some other kids, so informing the bullies of the impact of their words and about mental health stigmas can be helpful, but that education can also help the bullied to get trough a rough patch. Youth can also learn more easily, so starting education about these topics while we’re young is an asset: we’ll be « experts » once we’re grown up and our education will help us do prevention. Also, quite often being younger means that we are more vulnerable; bringing awareness to issues that might affects us is even more a necessity because of that; plus poor mental health during our development years can impact the rest of our lives. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 70 percent of young adults with mental illness report that their symptoms first started in childhood. In the Raising Canada Report, data shows that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth between 15 and 24 years old and the 1st for children between 10 and 14 years old. Those statistics are horrific and shows how important it is to take action early in order to protect to youth of our countries.
As a youth Mental Health Advocate, what actions are you doing to promote mental health awareness, education and advocacy for youth?
As a youth mental health advocate, the main action I take to promote mental health awareness, education and advocacy for youth is to talk about my own personal difficulties with mental health. I’m an « twice exceptional (2e) » teen as I’ve been identified as gifted and I struggle a lot with anxiety and depression. Speaking up about my journey and recovery process, but also about the fact that things are not always perfect, is a way for me to debunk stigmas related to mental illnesses and various diagnosis. It’s possible to be gifted and still struggle in school; it’s possible to have depression but have good days during which you smiles lots. Having anxiety isn’t just being weak when confronted to stress. I make sure that I remind people that mental illnesses are not the same for everybody and that one doesn’t simply need to «toughen up» to get through it. Having those conversations also means that I do my best to myself use non-ableist language and to have a ready ear for whoever might need support. Being a youth mental health advocate isn’t only about big actions, it’s also about the little actions one does daily. Although I try to open up discussions about these taboos with people around me, I also use social media to do so and promote other mental health advocates. Finally, my position as co-chair of Children First Canada’s Youth Advisory Council also helps me promote good mental health to my peers. Together and through some initiatives like the Young Canadian Parliament, we have educated youth and raised kid’s voices so that we could be heard by our parliamentarians. Our advocacy works has been having a good impact. I have myself participated in a zoom meeting with the Honorable Patty Hajdu, Canadian minister of Health, in which I could speak for Canadian kids about our concern related to our mental health in these troubling days.
What is one thing you would like to see changed in society that would improve awareness, education and advocacy for youth?
In an ideal world, one thing I would like to see changed in society that would improve awareness, education and advocacy for youth, in my opinion, would be the language used by children and teens. Of course, they have been influenced by their environnement and social circles, but I find truly shocking that some of my age peers consider okay to greet their friends using words like « bitch » or use insults as, supposed, jokes. There’s a lyric in Shane Koyczan’s song To This Day that I find truly wonderful: « That rhyme about sticks and stones, as if broken bones hurt more than the names we got called and we got called them all » For me, this shows the extent of the impact that negative language can have on a child. However, it’s not just about the names. It’s about how my hearth clench every time someone says « I sooo have generalized anxiety, I’m kinda stressed about my exam » while there’s people that can’t even find their breath and pass out from panic attack. Being stressed out is legit. You have the right to say that you are stressed. What is not okay is to banalize an actual medical condition that some people struggle with, simply to look «cool». That of course doesn’t happen only with anxiety… Who never heard someone say «I’m so OCD» simply because they had a little perfectionist side ? That can make people who are struggling feel as if their illness isn’t valid, that it’s banal and that they can simply « pull out of it ». Let me tell you this: we can’t just pull out of it and when someone tell us « Just stop stressing about it, it’s okay » it doesn’t actually help. Therefore, in an ideal world, I want people, but especially youth to be aware of the power of their words. I want us to stop using negative wording as a joke, it actually hurts, we have to stop banalizing mental illnesses and actually bring help to those who need some.