Calgary, AB 

Mental health problems and related stigma negatively impact young people’s success at school and in all areas of their lives. Substance use and self-injury are common and harmful coping strategies for youth managing unresolved pain. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people.

The HEADSTRONG program from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) was launched in Nov 2014 to change the way youth think about mental health, forever. Canada’s only evidence-based national initiative, HEADSTRONG gives youth the tools, confidence and motivation to Be Brave, Reach Out, and Speak Up for mental health in their own schools and communities.

After over 70 youth Summits across the country and more than 10,000 evaluation surveys, HEADSTRONG is making a difference; to the youth who have handed over their suicide notes after listening to our inspirational lived-experience speakers, to the schools who report the positive energy that affects all their students.

  • HEADSTRONG’s effectiveness is based in the hopeful atmosphere of the program, the accent on youth leadership, and the skilled speakers who share powerful personal stories of recovery. The two-part program model ensures continued momentum and long-term success. A Summit brings together small groups of youth from various schools for an experiential day of learning, providing the tools and confidence for them to undertake Part 2 – where youth deliver their own stigma-challenge and mental health promotion events across the whole school for the academic year. HEADSTRONG changes, and even saves lives by facing down the shame often associated with mental illness, and revealing the true courage, resilience, and potential of youth.
  • Stigma continues to be a major barrier in help-seeking for mental health concerns. The fear of being judged, bullied and isolated causes many people to live in secret suffering. Research shows that youth are the most stigmatized group, with children as young as 10 seeing suicide as the only way out because of stigma. We need every child and youth to know there’s another way, that recovery is expected, and that love is just a hand’s reach away.
  • Youth who believe they are alone in their pain experience a connection and renewal of hope through hearing our speaker’s stories. Youth see the change in how their peers and school understand and support mental health through their leadership, and frequently report a positive change in their own mental health and wellbeing through participation. Schools, community leaders and agencies build stronger connections, working together to support the youth involved. Families learn about mental health and recovery from their children.
  • Dr. Heather Stuart, Bell Anti-Stigma Chair at Queen’s University designed the evaluation process for HEADSTRONG. Every Summit is evaluated by youth completing pre- and post-summit surveys, with results collated by the MHCC’s research team.
  • HEADSTRONG has been successfully replicated in large urban centers, rural and Indigenous communities. All resources are free and available in both English and French.
  • HEADSTRONG’s innovation is in the long-lasting impact it creates. In regions where HEADSTRONG has been active since 2014, our research shows the outcomes in students now compared to the first cohort. HEADSTRONG changes attitude and behavior, in turn impacting the ability of those needing help for a mental health concern to speak up and receive help earlier. Earlier help seeking generally equals faster and better recovery especially for youth, meaning a measurable reduction in crisis services, hospital stays, impact on business, and the stress on carers downstream.
  • Summits have been held in 9 provinces and two territories so far. Building the network of regions covered, there’s a major push over the last year into rural and First Nations communities. The team has a vision of every youth in Canada experiencing hope through HEADSTRONG.

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