Over the past 12 months, the conversation regarding mental health has been growing louder and louder. Mental Health Matters, the first youth mental health conference in Newfoundland and Labrador was simply following suit with the incredible momentum that has been growing around mental health awareness. Events such as The Launch and Wholly Heart along with countless other initiatives set the stage for Mental Health Matters to plateau the building potential for mental health awareness among youth.
The conference was in the making for roughly one year and the Youth Leadership Council with Choices for Youth had been working on a nationwide anti stigma campaign with the Mental Health Commissions of Canada titled Headstrong since November. Many students and staff members from Holy Heart High School, along with fantastic support from the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Mental Health Commissions of Canada and various other organizations helped make Mental Health Matters a reality. A special acknowledgement must be made for Mrs. Debbie Howse, a student success teacher from Holy Heart who really allowed for the event to grow to the powerful event that it was.
On April 24th, over 400 participants arrived at Holy Heart High School for the beginning of a great weekend. Students were captivated by great addresses from Premier Paul Davis, and others, before experiencing the incredible production, “Give Me Back”, which reminded everyone in the just how important the conference was. Keynote presentations from Mark Gruchy, Amelia Curran and Donovan Taplin helped set the tone for the rest of the conference. Through these presentations and over 20 interactive workshops, students were given the opportunity to increase awareness of their own mental health, before brainstorming how they could keep the conversations going in their respective communities. Though it was the latter half of the event that was truly special -- students were full of positive excitement to help end the stigma surrounding mental health back home.
The Youth Leadership Council had 4 council members share their stories of the raw, real reality of their experiences with mental illness. You could feel the emotion in the room, many students in tears. Following the speeches, members engaged students in various activities showing the harsh realities of stigma. Great promise was shown during these brainstorming sessions, which gave everyone present hope that a supportive network of mental health advocates was being established right across the island and in Labrador.
To see all of our hard work come together for this conference was a dream come true for many YLC members. Over all the conference was a reminder to all who attended that we all really are the change we wish to see in the world. Help us keep this momentum going and lets continue the conversation about mental health.
Written by Chelsey Hicks and Patrick Hickey