Local youth opening doors for mental health help

Chilliwack's Youth as Gatekeepers program equips youth with the knowledge to advocate for mental health and connect friends with help.

The Youth as Gatekeepers program trains high school students to advocate for mental health and connect fellow students help when they need it.

The Youth as Gatekeepers program trains high school students to advocate for mental health and connect fellow students help when they need it.

When you break your arm, you go to the hospital. It’s an automatic response, and there’s no shame in doing so.

When a young person has a mental health concern, the next step isn’t always clear, or easy.

That’s where Youth as Gatekeepers (YAG) comes in.

“It’s a mental health literacy and suicide awareness prevention program,” said Brandi Carlow, facilitator for the program.

Carlow is one of a few token adults involved in the program. At its core, Youth as Gatekeepers is driven by and intended for young people.

Students in Grades 10 to 12 can voluntarily sign-up for the program through their school, to become advocates for mental health, and gatekeepers to additional mental health services.

The program, sponsored by the FORCE Society for Kids’ Mental Health and supported by the Ministry for Children and Family Development, has been implemented within the Chilliwack school district. Throughout the year, participating youth receive and contribute to continual mental health training in weekly meetings with facilitators.

“It’s about building that education with the youth, so that they can recognize the signs and symptoms in themselves and friends,” Carlow explained. It’s also a safe space to share mental health concerns, without fear of judgement.

The gatekeepers build presentations to share with their school’s feeder middle schools. In those presentations, they not only educate the kids about mental wellness, but they also share personal stories with vulnerability and passion.

It’s critical that young students are aware of YAG’s presence in their school. If an individual is dealing with an issue like depression, anxiety, or even self-harm or suicidal thoughts, knowing that there’s a peer they can talk to may be the deciding factor in whether or not they seek kelp.

“Kids always talk to other kids or youth first, before they talk to adults,” Carlow recognized. “They’ll be the first to hear about what’s happening, and now they’re equipped to help.”

The gatekeepers aren’t expected to have all the answers, but they do know where to turn. They can direct a young person to the next step, whether that’s a trusted adult, a support within their school, an online resource, or contact with a local service agency like Child and Youth Mental Health or the Chilliwack Youth Health Centre.

“And many of the youth have used those resources themselves, so they can speak from a place of knowing,” Carlow said.  “I truly believe it’s changing this generation of kids.”

Working with the YAG program for the past three years, Carlow’s seen the results of the program first hand.

“I’ve watched students go from being very quiet and withdrawn to being confident in a leadership role, and really passionate about what they’re doing,” she said. And the benefits of the program are two-fold, she says, in that youth are providing a valuable service for others, and in doing so they are growing as individuals.

Youth as Gatekeepers will be making a presentation on Child and Youth Mental Health Awareness Day in Chilliwack on May 9.

The event, also featuring presentations by Sardis Secondary’s Be the Change Committee and a presentation byBrian Gillies, runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Sardis Secondary’s theatre (45460 Stevenson Road).

Learn more about Youth as Gatekeepers through your local school or at www.forcesociety.com.