Inspiring youth to bravely speak up about mental health
When Vanessa Oliverio stood up to speak at the HEADSTRONG Summit in Dawson City, Yukon, she was facing an audience of her high school peers and friends. If that wasn’t daunting enough, the story she was about to share for the very first time was about her own mental health struggles.
“It was nerve wracking and anxiety inducing,” says Oliverio, but she says speaking up was worth it. “Mental health is something you shouldn’t be ashamed of. It’s something that is important to discuss and spread awareness about, because everybody has mental health. It should be something that we talk about and are passionate about to make sure that people with mental illness or people who are going through trauma have a place to talk.”
After sharing her story, she says she felt empowered and completely relieved.
A summit against stigma
An evidence-based anti-stigma initiative, HEADSTRONG has been teaching students how to become mental health champions in their schools since 2014. Recognizing that the Yukon needed more programming around mental wellness for youth, the HEADSTRONG summits offered a solution.
“HEADSTRONG is amazing in those connections people are making at the summit,” says Tiffanie Tasane, Executive Director of the Yukon Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association. “You can see the lights going on for kids, that they’re not the only one, that somebody else is brave enough to talk about it and maybe they could be brave enough to talk about it, too.”
The power of sharing
Tailored to youth ages 12-18, the summit brings together students in small groups for a full day of activities. In Dawson City, this included an activity where students were asked to share the words they think of when they hear mental health or illness, including words they know they’re not supposed to say.