Making youth better aware of mental health

Youth as Gatekeepers seeks to educate students on mental health knowledge, how to advise friends to seek help for mental health concerns.

This week’s column highlights another wonderful mental health initiative taking place in our community. Youth as Gatekeepers is a contract put forth by the FORCE Society for Kids Mental Health. It is a mental health literacy and suicide prevention awareness project that seeks to engage youth in the community of Chilliwack.  I had the opportunity to speak with Kristy Dykshoorn, a third year Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology student at Trinity Western University. She completed her internship hours with us at Child and Youth Mental Health, and was then hired by the FORCE Society for Kids Mental Health to coordinate the Youth as Gatekeepers project.

She and those involved are passionate about the project’s mission: Youth as Gatekeepers seeks to educate the student body on mental health knowledge (i.e., literacy, signs and symptoms, recognition, etc.), suicide prevention, stigma reduction, resources available, and how to advise friends to seek help for mental health concerns. When asked to explain the project, Kristy said “We begin by conducting mental health literacy presentations in the secondary schools in Chilliwack. These presentations are used as recruitment opportunities to engage a small group of students. Once a small group of students has been established they meet with the school-based facilitator on a weekly basis. In these weekly meetings the students build relationships, gain knowledge of mental health matters, and share their own experiences with mental health. Finally, the students (with the help of the school-based facilitator) will develop a mental health literacy presentation that they will present to other classrooms in their school, as well as the middle schools in the community. They are given the opportunity to be creative and to take ownership of the presentation; presenting on topics that are important to them, in a way that is meaningful to the audience. It is our goal that every student in the Chilliwack area has a working knowledge of mental health and the resources available in the community.”

When I asked why is something like this necessary in schools today, Kristy replied that “having a program like this, and ultimately, creating a student body with knowledge like this, is necessary because too many students’ mental health concerns go unnoticed until more intrusive help is required. By teaching students the early signs and symptoms, they will be able to direct their at-risk peers to the appropriate resources in the community. Research has shown that adolescents are more likely to speak with their peers than teachers/parents/professionals about these kinds of concerns. Thus, the hope is that this initiative will lead to the prevention and early intervention of many more high-risk youth.

I also asked Kristy to share what she thought parents, teachers, and the community might like to know about what their kids are hearing and learning about from this project.

“It is important for them to know that we are not training the youth to be peer counsellors or to intervene in high risk situations; rather we are equipping their youth with the necessary knowledge to handle spontaneous conversations about mental health in an effective manner. Everyone experiences mental health issues at different points in their lives. It is also true that everyone handles those situations differently, but by increasing knowledge about resources available, a concerned youth can, at least, feel as though they have the tools to point a friend in the right direction for help.”

I think Chilliwack should consider it self lucky to have one more thing that sets us apart in a meaningful and contributory way.

Eryn Wicker (M.A., R.C.C.) is a mental health clinician with the Child and Youth Mental Health team of the Ministry of Children and family development in Chilliwack, B.C.

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