Opinion

MPs have the tools to help young people take charge of their mental health

A young mental health advocate is calling on MPs to build compassion in communities.

Youth mental health advocate Patrick Hickey says parliamentarians have what they need to help reduce stigma. Photograph courtesy of Patrick Hickey

PUBLISHED :Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 12:00 AM

Compassion. Over the last five years, my efforts as a mental health advocate have taught me many things, but none more important than the value of compassion. Throughout the ups and downs of life, we all seek to ground ourselves in something: a person, a place, a sense of belonging. I believe that we can all find this sense of belonging in our own communities.

As a past participant and regional leader of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) Headstrong summit, I encourage every member of Parliament to engage with your communities to nurture compassionate youth mental health leaders in every corner of the country.

Headstrong is an anti-stigma initiative aimed at young people. It challenges our misconceptions about mental health problems and illnesses. Headstrong promotes open dialogue and highlights positive stories of recovery from community members with direct or indirect lived experience of mental illness. Almost five years ago, I attended the MHCC’s first Headstrong summit—a national summit for Canadian youth from coast to coast to coast. The atmosphere was electric and the lessons we learned were invaluable.

As part of the Headstrong initiative, I was encouraged to lead my own regional summit when I arrived back home, in St. John’s, N.L. After collaborating with other young advocates, community groups, and elected officials, Newfoundland’s inaugural Headstrong summit was a huge success. It brought together more than 600 students from more than 30 high schools from every corner of my province, along with our premier, minister of health and other dignitaries.

  

Our goal: to end stigma, start a conversation and learn about mental health.

Just as I had experienced in Ottawa, I was inspired to see youth from all walks of life congregating and having meaningful conversations about mental health. I will never forget during the closing ceremonies a young girl whom I had never met came up to me. Without hesitation, she thanked me and said, “Because of you guys [the summit’s planning team], I know that I never have to hurt myself again. I know I’m not alone.”

Even more remarkably, the conversations didn’t end with the Headstrong summit. Countless schools and communities in the province began hosting their own mental health summits, bolstered by the efforts of the young champions who attended ours. That’s what Headstrong is all about: youth leading the charge for youth mental health.

We know a majority of mental health problems arise during adolescence. Unfortunately, only one in six children diagnosed with a mental health problem will get treatment. Even more distressing, 40 per cent of parents admit that they wouldn’t tell anyone if their child were experiencing a mental health problem—not even a family doctor. And, most alarming of all, suicide is the second leading cause of death among my peers.

  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have seen first-hand the power compassion can have in our communities.

#338Conversations is a project that I am thrilled to support. The goal of #338 Conversations—referring to the country’s 338 federal ridings—is for MPs and Senators to spark a discourse about youth mental health and to introduce the Headstrong anti-stigma program in their home regions.

It’s about giving young people in every community in Canada the power to “Be Brave, Reach Out and Speak Up.” The same opportunity I was given just a few years ago. I’m still riding the remarkable wave of that experience, and I’m more motivated than ever to stand up in support of mental health.

If the efforts of a high school kid from Newfoundland can spark this kind of dialogue, just imagine what would happen if every member of parliament got behind this effort.

  

To MPs, I say this: You now have the tools. If you put them to use, and if you can tap into the compassion in your community, the young people will take care of the rest.

Patrick Hickey is a Loran Scholar in his third year at Western University. He is pursuing a degree in business administration at the Richard Ivey School of Business.

The Hill Times