January 29th is Bell Let’s Talk Day which is an opportunity to join a national conversation about mental health challenges and help reduce the stigma around mental illness.
This month, we are showcasing the Here4Peers program, a Vancouver Police Foundation funded program that is run through the VPD and other community partners such as the Vancouver School Board, Canadian Mental Health Association – Vancouver-Fraser Branch, Vancouver Coastal Health, and the City of Vancouver. The program aims to break the stigma of mental health and depression in students by building a support network among their fellow peers. By normalizing conversations and supports around mental health starting with youth, the intended outcome will be to reduce the incidents of mental health crises and interventions among adults.
VPF: I’m here with the Ashley Currie, the Program Coordinator for Here4Peers. Thanks for taking the time to chat about the Here4Peers program.
VPF: Tell us more about the Here4Peers program?
AC: The Here4Peers program is a peer-based mental health awareness program where high school students are trained to go into grade 7 classes (in their catchment elementary schools) to facilitate interactive workshops regarding mental health awareness. Currently there are six high schools participating in the program: David Thompson, Vancouver Tech, John Oliver, Eric Hamber, Prince of Wales, and King George Secondary Schools.
VPF: Why do you think this program is important?
AC: Specifically in Canada, we’re seeing higher numbers of calls for service that are mental health-related and we’re seeing larger numbers of people experiencing depression and anxiety. There’s a lot of concrete evidence to show that mental health is becoming a real challenge in our community for young people. We feel if we can get ahead of when kids are younger, we can circumvent and connect younger kids with appropriate resources earlier before mental health issues turn into even more demanding concerns or mental illnesses when they transition to adulthood.
VPF: You mentioned there’s been more calls for service that are mental-health related. What do you think are some of the major challenges students are facing today?
AC: One of the biggest things we are noticing are a lot of kids feel the pressure or the need to be happy all the time. A lot of the work Here4Peers is doing is to normalize the regular fluctuations of mood, thought, and feelings. So, if you’re not 100% happy all the time–which is constantly projected through social media where everything has to be perfect and everyone has to be happy– kids might feel there’s something wrong with them.
This is a generation of young people who are leaders of social media and being parented by adults who don’t fully understand or necessarily have a grasp on social media. There are no mentors for this generation and unfortunately, young people have more information than the people that are supposed to mentor and provide guidance to them.
Another major challenge we see with kids stems from their family upbringing as well.
A lot of our young people come from families that don’t necessarily talk about mental health or is something that is valued. There’s a lot of diversity, in our city specifically, so a lot of different languages or cultures don’t have words or can express the concept of mental health or mental illness so we’re definitely seeing that as a challenge as well.
Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Ashley Currie from the Here4Peers program which will be featured in next month’s VPF newsletter.