While each community had the chance to create their own event, a common vision was shared; to eliminate stigma related to mental health.
Join the BOM team on their two-month journey across BC working with thousands of inspirational, passionate youth, teachers, counsellors and organizations who have made a lasting impact in their school and communities.
It all started on March 10th, 2017 in Penticton, where the first of five Balancing Our Minds (BOM) youth summits kicked off. Summit organizers and youth attending were faced with snowstorms, cancelled flights, highways closures and bus delays. But despite the challenges thrown their way, the event was a huge success. Grey Cup Champion and mental health advocate Shea Emry shared his story, taught the importance of youth finding their voices and took a small group of students on a wellness hike. He was joined by a panel of brave youth speakers, youth advocates, community professionals and student wellness groups.
“Bringing together the community of mental health advocates within a region and providing collective strength in numbers feel for the ones who are suffering in silence.” – Shea Emry on why he feels the youth summits are important
Hundreds of students from BC’s largest school district gathered to have thought provoking dialogue about mental health, and how we can break down barriers. Students heard from Andrea Paquette – AKA the Bipolar Babe – speak about stigma and how it affects people who struggle with mental illness. She also talked about Stigma-Free Zones and how youth can create these in their schools.
“I want people to know that mental health affects everyone. Even if you don’t have a mental illness yourself, people you know are undoubtedly affected by them. I want to create a society where it’s normal to tell people how you’re actually feeling, without fear of being judged for it. Once we are able to talk about mental health openly and without judgement we will all realize that we are not alone in whatever we are going through and we will all feel a lot more comfortable reaching out for help and helping each other.” – Organizer, youth speaker and host Laurie Edmundson talks about what gives her the drive to bring these events to life.
The Oceanside BOM summit brought together students from Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum and other schools in the area. A highlight experienced by the team was Reel Talk: a session hosted by a rapper SirReal (Matt Dunae) and Lyndsay Wells (a former RCMP officer). They shared their stories, how they got involved as mental health advocates and began working at the suicide crisis line on Vancouver Island. There were discussions about the ‘masks’ we wear every day and how to become your closest ally.
“Any occasion where we can talk about mental health issues normalizes the conversation. This makes it easier for people to find/seek help as there is not as much stigma revolving around mental health issues…I was amazed that so many young people are now engaged in the conversation of mental health. I see a generation of people who will be able to speak about mental health without stigma.”—Konrad Langenmaier, Counsellor, Oceanside on managing his own mental health as a mental health service provider
The Capital Region District BOM saw over 600 students from four different school districts across Southern Vancouver Island fill the home of BCHL Victoria Grizzlies.The stage sat in the middle of the arena, surrounded by community resources hosting booths in the resource fair. The BOM Summit saw Jeremy Loveday – Victoria City Councillor and slam poet – share poems on vulnerability, violence and our emotions.
“Our community is known for being accepting of diversity but there is still work to be done! Reducing stigma and increasing young people's health literacy by sharing stories is one of the ways we can improve mental health.”—Jenny Redpath, Public Health Nurse, Capital Region District
Students heard an inspiring speech from Trent Seymour, an ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation and the first paraplegic baseball umpire in Canada. In addition, Cassie Hawrysh Canadian Skeleton champion and World Cup medalist, shared how she found her passion in life and the hardships that went along with that journey. The day ended with an exercise that truly made an impact on students: each school came up with three goals to break the stigma and promote mental wellness in their school community this year. At the end, students came up to the front of the room to share those goals with the rest of the audience.
“Every year I am always inspired by the stories and deep connections I make with others participants and presenters. It’s such a special event, because it allows us all to be vulnerable in a place of zero judgement and unconditional acceptance. By expressing this vulnerability, we are able to learn, grow and develop a better understanding of the issue and other's circumstances.”—Victoria Ritchie, Student, on her experiences at the Youth Summits
The summits are important platforms, but real change happens once each student leaves the event and goes back to their friends, family and classrooms. We all have the ability to make a difference – especially when it relates to stigma and mental health – and Balancing Our Minds gives BC youth a voice to bring change to their schools and communities.
Join us in celebrating the BOM community summits by tuning in on social media and using the #BOMsummit to jump in the conversation. Follow the BC Children’s, Kelty Mental Health and BOM channels for more profiles and stories.
If you’re looking for ideas or resources to promote mental health and wellness in your school community, visit the Balancing Our Minds web page for more information.
Until next year!