Five Brandon students take part in youth anti-stigma event in Ottawa

Five high school students from Neelin and Vincent Massey represented the Wheat City at a national youth anti-stigma event in Ottawa last month. 

The first ever event, entitled HEADSTRONG, took place during the week of Nov. 16-22 and was launched by the Mental Health Commission of Canada in partnership with Encounters with Canada, which is the nation’s largest youth forum.

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The initiative gave students a goal in which to come back to their respective communities and work with organizations, schools, and other youth in an effort to reduce stigmatizing attitudes and behaviours associated with mental health. 

The event ignited dialogue about mental health amongst students from all over Canada and provided youth representatives with education and activities based on ‘opening their minds’ to anti-stigma research. 

Kendra Maxon was one of the Brandon students who attended the event. The Grade 11 student from Neelin says she found the experience extremely beneficial. 

“I not only broadened my knowledge of how to create change, but I gained knowledge about myself,” she said in an emailed interview. “This conference taught me so much in just seven days and has strengthened my leadership skills.”

Maxon says she didn’t know what to expect when she first arrived but wound up really enjoying herself. 

“Our days were jam packed with really fun stuff,” she added. “Throughout the week, we heard speakers tell their powerful stories of recovery from mental illness, had workshops about what stigma is and how we can change it across our country, toured the parliament building, and toured various landmarks around Ottawa.”

She says throughout the week, students chose a workshop and spent several hours working on a specific topic, which she says, were mechanisms that could be used to help end the stigma of mental health, which in turn, can help start a nationwide movement. 

“I was part of the slam poetry group, and we came up with some beautiful creations attacking stigma, and ideas of how we could incorporate poetry into our communities by doing shows with friends in local coffee shops, creating awareness while entertaining,” she said. 

She says the video workshop created a PSA promoting mental health education and stigma prevention, while the graffiti workshop created a collaborative piece representing stigma prevention. Meanwhile, the blogging workshop created twitter pages for each province and ways for everyone from the conference to keep in touch and share their ideas, while the drama workshop performed some really entertaining and powerful skits.  

She says her favourite memories was on the last night of the event, which saw the supervisors and coordinators give the students approximately an hour to form a circle, all the while, anyone could say anything they wanted about their experience. 

“At this point, we all came together representing our entire nation, and sparked a movement that is already spreading like wildfire,” she said. “In that moment, everyone in that room together vowed to make a difference and I know everyone in that room came home and is extremely excited and motivated to create a change in our society. Youth has a tremendous impact on the community and even though the number of representatives from Brandon were small, we are going to make a huge impact on the community and schools, to create positive change.” 

She says the Brandon students are in the planning stages on how they can help spread the message to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and mental health problems in Westman. 

“We’ve talked about possibly creating workshops and conferences available to students from all three high schools to educate and create awareness,” said Maxon. “To put this into perspective, mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague and 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Not only this, but also the total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million. This is an issue we need to address because it is not OK to stand by while people suffer every day. 

“I can’t wait to stand tall and be part of the movement to end stigma side-by-side with my new friends from Brandon and all across Canada,” she concluded.

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