News & Events News & Announcements 2014 SOUND OFF summit sees youth take action on mental health

SOUND OFF summit sees youth take action on mental health

Youth in Ontario now have a louder voice thanks to SOUND OFF — a program designed to get young people speaking out and mobilized around mental health. The initiative began by collecting online and in-person surveys. 1500 surveys were collected from young people across the province to gage their opinion on what is, or isn’t, working to support mental health in their schools, communities and the media. The results were released in a report titled “Youth Empowering Youth: How Schools, Media, & Community Impact Youth” at a youth summit held on November 1.

“When we looked at what was available to help young people speak about mental illness, we found that there were very few resources or outlets available to them,” said Tasha Williams, SSO Program Director. “SOUND OFF was created to ensure that young people would be able to tell us about what supports they would like to see in their schools and communities, and how they want media portrayals of mental illness to change.”    

The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) — a group of eight youth volunteers — conceptualized, developed and launched SOUND OFF, with guidance from SSO. YAC members Ayesha Jabbar, Alicia Raimundo, Roxanne Mathalon and Chelsea Meldrum presented the report to youth from across the province who gathered in Toronto to hear the results and share their own ideas on how to improve the mental health landscape. The report is broken up into three sections — schools, communities and media — with problems identified for each area along with proposed solutions to improve its approach to youth metal health.
 Quotes from SOUND OFF respondents are included throughout the report and show that their concerns about mental health are present in many areas of life. According to one respondent, “Colleges and universities need to promote and support students with mental illnesses.” Another said, “We’re constantly fed images in the media that perpetuate impossible standards and manipulate our insecurities.”

During the presentation three YAC members shared their personal experiences with mental illness. Ayesha Jabbar was diagnosed with depression when she was 15 and discussed how she was lucky to have the support of her family and peers to aid her recovery. Chelsea Meldrum lives with schizophrenia and anxiety, and explained how Family Services Ottawa and a series of effective support groups have helped her live with mental illness. Alicia Raimundo has been frustrated to see her story of living with mental illness “twisted by the media to fit a narrative.” She also talked about how online support groups can be used effectively by youth seeking mental health advice and treatment.

Guest speaker Asante Haughton talked about his personal battles with poverty and depression. Haughton first began to experience symptoms of depression as a teenager, internalizing the difficult experiences brought about by his parents splitting up and his mother’s struggle to support him and his two brothers.  His mother also lived with depression causing him “to retreat further into himself.”  He contemplated suicide and wrote two different suicide letters. Once he started therapy he was able to turn things around, finally understanding the causes of his depression, and developing strategies to cope.

“You never fully overcome it, but you learn to live with it,” he said. “I keep the two letters I wrote to remind myself how far I’ve come.”

YAC volunteers worked with the youth in attendance to develop their own strategies on how to advocate for change in their schools and communities. A pledge board was set up with each person writing down their pledge of how they are going to address mental health every single day. “I pledge to stand for people going through mental illness and to be a support system,” and “I pledge to talk about mental illness at school,” are examples of pledges young people made at the summit. 

SSO has also provided a Youth Advocacy Toolkit for young people who want to take action on mental health. It provides tools, tips, and resources for anyone who wants to change the face of mental health at home, at school, or even within the government.

By providing a safe and open forum for youth to talk about mental illness, SOUND OFF has laid the groundwork for a new generation of mental health advocates who want to change the way mental health issues are addressed in Ontario. Young people have decided to not let silence define them. They will now be able speak for the benefit of their peers, their communities, and finally for themselves.