Below you will find some details around planning a mental health summit that we believe are essential. Most of these ideas centre on safety. We suggest you take a look through the information below, as well as the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) Headstrong Anti-Stigma Summit Planning toolkit for more information on planning a summit.
Mental health can be a difficult subject. When planning a youth summit, it is important to understand that attendees will be bringing unique personal experiences to the event, and sometimes the subject matter can be difficult or triggering. Attendees may have personal lived experience with a mental health challenge themselves, know a friend or family member who has been affected, or have been touched by mental illness in another aspect of their lives. Creating a safe space at the beginning of the event so participants feel safe and comfortable having a discussion about mental health is incredibly important.
At Balancing Our Minds, we always create a “Community Agreement” at the beginning of the day. Essentially, a community agreement is a list of principles or rules for the event – created by and agreed upon by participants – to ensure a safe space throughout the day. Such principles might include:
As an example, you can find one of our community agreements from Balancing Our Minds below.
A final important piece of creating a safe space is confidentiality. Due to the nature of the discussions throughout the day, there likely will be personal disclosures from students and participants. As a principle of the community agreement, these disclosures should always be held in confidence.
The importance of having supportive listeners is the same reason it is important to create a safe space at the beginning of the day: discussing mental health can touch on personal experiences and elicit strong emotions for those attending. Supportive listeners are individuals identified as safe and available to speak with and support anyone who may be triggered by the events of the day, feeling overwhelmed, or just needing somebody to talk to. Supportive listeners can be school staff (school counsellors or trained staff), community resource representatives, or other individuals from the community who are trained and comfortable supporting others. It is important to identify your supportive listeners early and often throughout the day, and also have them easily identifiable by other attendees at the event (i.e. have them wear t-shirts, bright colours, or outline an area where people can find them).
Post- Summit Action Plan
While we have discussed how to create a safe and supportive environment for the day of the event, it is just as important to think about creating a supportive environment in the days, weeks, and months after the event is over. Hosting a youth summit event can go a long way in battling the stigma that surrounds mental health and mental illness – a predominant reason many individuals do not reach out for mental health support when they need it. After hosting an event, you may find students feel more comfortable coming forward to discuss their own mental health challenges and begin reaching out for support because of that.
Although this is a great step in the right direction, you want to make sure your school and community is prepared to properly handle the potential influx of students coming forward for support. Creating a school or community action plan is a valuable process that will help your community to support these individuals and help to make the most of the progress made after the event is over.
At your event, you are going to have speakers sharing their lived experience with mental illness and mental health challenges. It is imperative these speakers feel safe and supported throughout that experience, yet it is not an easy thing to do. Speaker support includes working with speakers leading up to the event, supporting them on the day of, and debriefing with them after the event is over. For more details on speaker support, see the Sharing Your Story and Speaker Support section of the website.