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Squamish teens work together to create mental health resources

Youth Leadership Summit will be held on Monday, May 27 at the Cheakamus Centre, in Paradise Valley
Grade 11 Howe Sound Secondary student McKinley Harrop outside the Squamish Youth Centre.

A group of Squamish youth has taken the lead in helping themselves, and each other.

Not surprisingly, given the digital world they grew up in, this help comes in the form of an online mental health resource, called MIND, which is a website with interactive e-modules and a trivia-style game.

And being Squamish, the game is played with animal avatars that climb the Stawamus Chief.

The project started about a year ago, when a dozen Squamish students got together in town over a weekend with the folks from Sea to Sky Community Services and mindyourmind.

After, the students were involved in 10 webinars with facilitators from mindyourmind, an organization supported by the federal Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that works with youth aged 14 to 29 to build resilience and coping skills.

Current Grade 11 Howe Sound Secondary student McKinley Harrop was involved in the project, along with Don Ross Middle School students, and tells The Chief the youth discussed some of the challenges facing young people in Squamish.

Key issues related to mental health that the teens wanted included were substance use, addiction, coping mechanisms — for life and school stress — and issues around language use.

"It was a really interesting and cool experience," Harrop said. "I have never gone into an experience where I really felt like adults were there to listen to what exactly we had to say. It was really nice to feel that heard."

In terms of substance use in local youth, Harrop said the students didn't want to just address teens using or not using drugs, but about how to deal with others who do.

Language can be misused, amplifying stigma, when it comes to mental health terms, and the youth also wanted to address that with their online resources, Harrop said.  

"One thing we talked about a lot, that we hear a lot, is people saying, 'Oh, I am so depressed. This is so depressing.' A lot of the time the word 'depressed'... gets thrown around a lot from people who don't really understand what it is like to live with depression and who don't understand it is a real mental illness."

Alex Champoux, a Squamish Youth Resource Centre worker, said after the success of the mental health resource project, the team at the Squamish Youth Centre wanted to do more.

Therefore, a Youth Leadership Summit will be held on Monday, May 27, at the Cheakamus Centre, in Paradise Valley.

This is aimed at Grade 10 Squamish students as well as current leaders and vulnerable youth.

Up to 40 students can take part.

"It is going to be based on experiential learning," said Champoux. "As you can imagine, at the Cheakamus Centre they do a lot of cool outdoor activities. Our whole goal is to tie in how important it is to learn these [mental health coping] skills. Small skills that we learn through plan and education that actually do really help improve mental health."

Organizations involved with the day include the Sea to Sky Community Services Youth Resource Centre, mindyourmind, Howe Sound Secondary, and the Alternative Program and Learning Expeditions from Learning Connections. 

Applications for the Youth Leadership Summit open April 17 and close May 10. Students can apply through the Squamish Youth Centre.

Mindyourmind also has an app, Be Safe that is available in Squamish. Learn more about it here:

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