By Jasmine Rakhra, Victoria BOM Emcee and Youth Mental Health Activist
On May 4, 2017 we gathered at the Q Cente in Colwood, Victoria for the first ever Victoria Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit. This Youth Summit was a one day event that brought together high school students on the island to learn about the mental health spectrum, how to support themselves/others, and about how to reduce the stigma that persists within families, schools, and the community at large. This youth summit was organized collaboratively by the four school districts here in Victoria, as well as the Healthy Schools team. The summit’s focus was to dispel the myths surrounding mental health as well as create a space for open dialogue by having youth speakers share their stories of lived experience, watch authentic performances, and showcase video resources that had been created by youth for youth. We engaged with the audience using Kahoot - questions were projected onto a screen and students used their mobile devices to select one of the four possible answers that they thought best answered the question/was relevant to them. The questions asked about the prevalence of mental health challenges, self-care, healthy coping, and other related topics. In addition, there was a spectacular community resource fair with information pamphlets, brochures, and free swag for youth to take home with them.
My involvement with the Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit dates back to the very first summit in Vancouver in 2013 at the Chan Auditorium at BC Children’s Hospital and since then I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the planning committee, as well as share my own mental health journey on stage at Rogers Arena at the 2015 BOM. The BOM summits have a special place in my heart as it’s one of the few mental health events that brings youth together nationally and features youth speakers/performers that directly have been affected by mental illness through either their own lived experience or through a loved one.
Mental illness is often dealt with behind closed doors and many feel isolated in their struggle. By having a day to connect and see the hundreds of faces around the room, you feel at ease knowing that you’re not alone and that there are others who ‘get the struggle.’ Through this movement of connecting with like-minded youth and advocates, I have found my own voice and have the privilege of being a voice for others who either are still searching for theirs or are unable to speak up for themselves due to adversity.
I want to give the Health Literacy team at BC Children’s Hospital a shout-out for their continuous hard work over the years to make this Youth Summit and others possible in BC. Furthermore, if it weren’t for all the organizers that dedicated their time; the youth speakers and performers for being vulnerable and open to sharing their gift; and the attendees for their willingness to partake in the dialogue and be present, this event wouldn’t have been possible.