Honouring young mental health heroes

Emma Skagen - August 22, 2014

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The stigma surrounding mental health in young people today can create a problematic culture of silence and alienation, making it difficult for youth in need to seek help even when it is readily available to them.

One way of helping break down that culture is with a creative platform in place for young people to share their mental health experiences with each other and with mental health professionals.

The Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts Network intends to create such a platform. In honour of this year’s International Youth Day and its theme of “Youth and Mental Health,” the CYCC Network has launched its Mental Health Heroes campaign, which asks young people to submit creative projects about experiencing and/or overcoming their struggles with mental health.

The campaign is fitting for the CYCC Network, since its goal is the mobilization of knowledge. The network is made up of academics, governments, community organizations, and service providers who share with each other their different forms of knowledge and experiences with youth in challenging contexts in order to improve mental health and wellbeing for at-risk youth in Canada.

Youth focused on youth


The Mental Health Heroes campaign was created by the Network’s Youth Advisory Committee, which consists of passionate individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 who are motivated to create positive change in their communities.

Emily Zinck is the coordinator of the Network’s youth advisory committee and a PhD candidate at Dalhousie studying youth involvement in research with the Dal-hosted Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. She emphasizes that youth are, “experts in their own experience”: nobody knows their own struggles better than they do, making their stories an asset to the CYCC Network’s efforts to share knowledge about youths’ struggles.

The campaign is accepting any sort of creative submission:— poems, collages, essays, even just a simple email — about how youths have experienced and overcome their mental health struggles. Participants remain anonymous unless they prefer to be identified.

The works will be displayed on the CYCC’s website , says Emily, with the hope of “encouraging other youth and also informing service providers, and those working in mental health. Hearing what young people say really works for them.”

According to Emily, young people often seem to think there is “some sort of shame associated with getting help, and that’s just so not true.” Getting these stories out there is pivotal in creating space for youth voices. “Their story has value,” she says. “Their experience has value. People want to hear it.”

“One of the biggest needs we have as humans is to be heard, and to share our story, she says. “Especially a story of overcoming, and I think that’s why we liked the term ‘hero.’ Because really, you are a hero, to come through a struggle like that.”

The CYCC Network will be accepting submissions for the Mental Health Heroes campaign until August 31st. Learn more at its website.


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