On March 10th, more than 200 students from high schools in the Okanagan region came together at the Balancing Our Minds (BOM) Youth Summit for a common purpose – to break silence around mental health and end stigma.
An initiative of BC Children's Hospital and supported by the Canucks for Kids Fund, BOM has grown to be a province-wide moment. The Health Literacy team at BC Children's Hospital welcomed BC communities to submit applications to host their own summits during the 2016/17 school year. After an overwhelming response, they narrowed it down to five communities:
- Okanagan: March 10th, 2017
- Surrey School District: April 26th, 2017
- Oceanside: May 3rd, 2017
- Capital Region District: May 4th, 2017
- Northern (Prince George): May 24th, 2017
Youth organizers at the Okanagan BOM found ways to get students active, engaged and talking about mental health. The main objective was to provide a space for students to connect and brainstorm on how to better promote mental health and wellness in their schools and communities. Students from Rutland Senior Secondary and Summerland Secondary School were given the chance to share the successes they have already had. Student wellness clubs from both schools got up on the main stage and shared what they had done in the past year to support mental health, what they have learned and what they are keen to do in the future. It was an important moment for students to see what's possible, and spark their own ideas for supporting mental health.
"The Balancing Our Minds youth summits create a safe platform for youth to hear from youth who've experienced mental health challenges, learn about resources in their communities and what they can do locally to support mental health and wellness," said Paul Irving, a BC Children's Hospital Health Literacy representative.
Okanagan students heard from keynote speakers, including Grey Cup champion Shea Emry. Shea probed students to find their unique voice in their life and wellness journeys. Shea, who's navigated mental health challenges himself, encouraged students to share and let that voice out. At one point, he had everyone get up and in unison scream out to let their voice be heard. It was a powerful moment for students and set the tone for the day.
Students speakers also shared their personal mental health and wellness experiences, and all participated in breakout sessions talking about breaking down stigma, promoting a positive body image and a chance to get active with a guided yoga practice and a hike led by Shea Emry.
Each student was given a postcard in their BOM bags at the beginning of the day, and they were asked write goals for their own wellness, wellness at school or with their friends and have that postcard mailed to them a year from the BOM event. Over a hundred students will have their wellness goals and a personal encouraging message mailed their way in March 2018.
BC Children's sends a huge thank you to the students, educators and community members of the Okanagan region for energizing students to make mental health a priority and inspiring their community to bring these conversations and activities to the forefront.
An initiative of BC Children's Hospital, the Balancing Our Minds summit began in Vancouver, attracting more than 1,000 annually since its inception in 2014. The event was inspired by the idea that an important first step to change how mental health is discussed and perceived is to bring together youth and educators from across the province to participate in thoughtful discussions, and share ideas on how to better promote mental health and wellness. Visit the Balancing Our Minds resource page to learn more.