Each year the Balancing our Minds: Youth Summit is a chance for high school students to come together to learn about mental health. The hope is that they will walk away feeling more comfortable talking about mental health and feeling better equipped to deal with any potential mental health challenges they may face down the road, whether it be their own or someone else’s.
What was particularly unique about this year’s Youth Summit is that we wanted a chance for the youth who attended to not only hear the amazing and inspiring stories of mental health advocates and activists, we wanted the chance for them to talk to each other following the day’s speakers and presentations.
This is where “Beyond the Conversation” came in!
“Beyond the Conversation” was an hour for youth and the adults that attended with them to sit down in small groups and run through a series of questions we posed about the day and about mental health in general. We wanted to give them the chance to discuss a topic that isn’t often openly discussed and also give them the opportunity to learn from each other.
Now holding an open discussion with about 1500 people is by no means an easy thing. We worried: “What if nobody talks to each other?” “What if they’re not interested in discussing things?” “What if everyone just winds up staring at their smartphone?!” (Let’s be honest, it happens.)
What we saw, though, was truly inspiring. Youth and adults sprawled out on the ice, chatting with each other, sharing their points, even engaging with small groups next to their own. The reality of “Beyond the Conversation” surpassed even our greatest expectations. The hope of the Youth Summit is always that youth will walk away feeling more open to engaging around mental health and with “Beyond the Conversation”, it was a chance for them to do just that.
As someone who spent her teens struggling with her mental health and not knowing what was going on, to have someone talk to me about mental health would have been uncomfortable, to say the least. I feared being “crazy” and felt more comfortable just pretending everything was fine on a day-to-day basis and then falling apart behind closed doors. This is what we’re talking about when we speak of the stigma of mental health. What we wanted to achieve at this year’s Summit was two-fold: that we would be able to lift that stigma (at least partially) with our amazing speakers and presenters for the day and then, within that safe and open space, youth would have the chance to practice talking about it.
Having anxiety was often like standing on the edge of a precipice. All it took was one step off the edge and I could fall down into a pit of worries that would pull me away from any semblance of being a functional human being for quite some time. The main thing that could pull me back from that pit was talking- whether it be talking to myself (e.g. ‘Am I confusing a possibility for a probability?’) or talking to a loved one or professional, having the chance to lay the situation out on the table and then look at it from different angles gave me a way to get past it. I certainly didn’t want to engage in those conversations but, once I convinced myself to do so, they were immensely helpful.
When we talk about mental health, we do many things. We remove the stigma, we model for other people that it’s okay to struggle with mental health (AND talk about those struggles), and we open a dialogue for how we can improve the way we view, live with and treat mental health challenges. Going into the Summit, our hope was that the conversation we engaged youth in around mental health would go beyond the one day.
Here’s hoping that it did!
Andrea - FORCE YiR at the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre