June 17, 2020
This past May, delegates from the first-ever virtual Jack Summit presented ten recommendations on how the federal government can better support youth mental health to Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger, and Parliamentary Secretary Adam van Koeverden. The recommendations were crafted over the week of May 4–8 by 250 Jack Summit delegates who came together virtually to discuss barriers to positive mental health in their communities and brainstorm how things need to change. From those conversations, representatives from each region of the country met with Minister Chagger and her team to discuss a region-specific barrier and a solution. Conversations like this — between youth mental health advocates and adult allies — are at the crux of building a country where all young people have access to the culturally appropriate mental health support that they need and deserve. This conversation is a fantastic start but just the beginning of what it looks like for young leaders and adult stakeholders to work together toward fundamental change for youth mental health in Canada.
Here’s what Jack Summit delegates had to say:
We recognize the contributions of our government to prioritize mental health during this time, but gaps remain in our current services provisions. Our recommendation centers around a gap in the existing capacity of mental health services in rural Alberta. The capacity we are talking about is that overall, there are less accessible and less comprehensive services in these communities — for example, follow up services after initial interventions are limited, and services can become fragmented and gaps exist in the continuum of services. There is a revolving door effect in rural healthcare environments and addressing this gap is increasingly important especially as our healthcare system continues to be constrained by COVID-19.
We recommend to improve the capacity of existing service providers serving youth across the education and health care fields by:
1. Identifying opportunities for capacity building in existing infrastructure through consultations with local communities, and
2. Providing the resources (in funding, staff, and expertise) to drive capacity building using a train-the-trainer model where they can identify community champions to generate local buy-in and boost long term sustainability of the program.
It was essential that we brought our ideas to the minister as the importance of developing strong working relationships between adult stakeholders and us — young advocates — cannot be overstated! Having additional pull at the level of Parliament allows us to increase the breadth of our advocacy work and to be able to do that as part of the VSE was incredible! I hope that tangible recommendations made by us are able to be implemented and supported with funding and the backing of those adult stakeholders and policy-makers at the national and provincial level.”
Lindsay Currie, Alberta
In British Columbia, there is a need to provide better mental health care for people who lack funds. For those with poor telecom services, we intend to create a better infrastructure for areas in “no service zones.” We propose that the CRTC create a government mandate that enforces telecom companies to create affordable and widespread coverage of the internet. We hope that through subsidies from the government to telecom companies, we can decrease the financial barriers to building towers in “no service zones.” In Canada, we believe that healthcare is a right that belongs to all individuals, therefore the pathways to that healthcare must also be a right.
As a group, we identified that one particular strength that exists in New Brunswick is our network of community care. In the face of tragedy and adversity, New Brunswickers are known for coming together to support one another. However, when it comes to mental health challenges, too many youth fall through the gaps. We identified that one reason for this is a lack of community education surrounding mental health, stigma reduction, and what resources are available. We recommend that mental health education is implemented into all years of our public education systems, with a curriculum that is age appropriate and could be adapted to all grade levels. The benefits of mental health education are something that could be seen in the real world, such as how the benefits of sexual health education have been observed — trends like increased awareness, open communication, and greater strength in community support could be observed over time. We would like to see mental health education be implemented into our education systems as soon as possible and have them developed to meet youth mental health needs as time progresses. Having early mental health education would also strengthen the structure of community support that exists in New Brunswick, particularly in rural areas.
"Historically, policies regarding young people have been created without accounting for the perspectives of the young people who will be directly affected by them. As a result, when sharing their perspectives, youth advocates may feel that their voice is not valuable. In order to implement our advocacy work and see things change at the systemic level, we need Canadian decision makers, such as Minister Chagger, as allies. Having the opportunity to meet with Minister Chagger has allowed for our voices and perspectives to be heard by someone who has the authority to implement the changes we are asking for. My hope is that our presentation to Minister Chagger will not only elicit changes in our regions with regards to our proposed ideas, but encourage other adult allies to seek out our voices and opinions when making important decisions regarding young Canadians.”
Lauren Whiteway, New Brunswick
Newfoundland and Labrador
There are not enough services in Newfoundland and Labrador, and what is available is not always well advertised or easy to access. We need to see current services in Newfoundland and Labrador expanded upon and the infrastructure to access these strengthened. Through investing in services that are currently available, we can enhance their capacity to accommodate and be more accessible to a greater population. This will ensure that people are familiar with and know how (and are able) to access these services.
"It was inspiring to know we are getting the spaces to speak our concerns to those who have the power to address them. By voicing our issues, we let policy makers know what needs to be fixed so we can have a better, more promising future in our country that benefits all members within it. I hope that more people recognize the importance of communication and are more willing to engage in it. I want people to know that we are united, and we do have an immense power to better Canada. There is a point to what we do, and it definitely does impact our future, so we need to be united and work together to ensure all needs are being addressed.”
Mary Feltham, Newfoundland
In Nova Scotia, we are seeing a lack of versatility of services, with many communities falling through the cracks of the system. We are recommending a grant model that allocates government funding for versatile and innovative services based on the needs identified in community consultation. This allows for the community’s voice to guide allocation of funding, using diverse feedback that links community and government representatives.
In order to address the gap of culturally relevant mental health education in the school system, we recommend that the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion, host weekly standing meetings with the Council of Education Ministers. Each education minister would oversee a youth advisory that is formed with these following considerations:
- Have a similar structure/mandate to the CMHA’s National Youth Advisory Council
- Have a minimum of 3 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit youth per council
- Have a minimum of 3 low-income youth per council
- Have a minimum of 3 racialized or newcomer youth per council
We suggest that these youth advisory councils should be formed within three months from now, and the ministers meeting should occur within one month of the formation of the advisory councils.
Without the voices of youth at the centre of the solutions to dismantle the barriers to better mental health, we cannot address the needs of youth in a socially relevant nor timely manner. As many advocates before us have declared, “Nothing about us, without us.”
Across Canada, it has been empirically documented that young people within the school system struggle with their mental health, causing a major strain on the system. Improving a child’s mental health from moderate to high mental health can lead to lifetime savings of $140,000 (Mental Health Commision of Canada, 2013), so all the recommendations today will help us build a stronger and more resilient generation of future leaders.
"It was important to be able to present to the minister in order to create a tangible sense of accomplishment for the incredible collective advocacy we have been able to achieve across Canada. This showed us that it is possible to gain a seat at the table when discussing gaps in services when you create a solid base of people and information before posing an ask. I hope to see provincial recommendations utilized on a national scale to not only continue the conversation, but for real-life applications to be put in place to eliminate gaps in mental health services, resulting in shorter, more manageable wait times across Canada as well as relevant resources tailored to individual needs.”
Emilie Leneveu, Northern and Central Ontario
Prince Edward Island
On Prince Edward Island, wait times to access mental health care following treatment at acute care centres are incredibly long, causing a gap in the continuum of care. In addition, we have a small number of psychologists relative to the population. Our recommendation is to encourage the federal government to work with their provincial counterparts to offer additional financial support for recruitment of psychologists to Prince Edward Island.
The great number of changes experienced by young people make them vulnerable to mental health struggle and the development of mental illness. There is a flagrant lack of knowledge and education on the subject, especially when compared to the importance given to physical health. We recommend adapting the Understanding Mental Health and Mental Illness Program Guide for all academic levels in Quebec and implementing it in schools. In the long term, this will ensure a basic level of mental health knowledge among young people in order to promote positive mental health and will reduce the burden on community resources and the healthcare system.
"I think it is very important to speak to politicians and make recommendations based on our research, views and experiences since they are very important drivers of change. They have the tools to help us pass policies that will improve the state of mental health in our respective provinces and in Canada. In my opinion, it is the duty of the government to listen to its citizens and act according to their needs, since we have a limit to our capacity to act within the system and we need it to adapt to the present era. I sincerely hope that the Honourable Minister Chagger will take our recommendation into account and take steps to help us implement it. She is an ally of the mental health movement, and we know that Quebec really needs it. We are far from having the resources available in other provinces or a positive attitude towards mental health. This is why we think that including mental health in the curriculum is essential to evolve as a society.”
Alexandra Radu, Quebec
Saskatchewan and Manitoba
We recognize the strides the prairie provinces have taken for better accessibility of mental health resources for residents. We would like to see increased financial support, and even rerouting existing funds towards grassroots mental health organizations so they can administer culturally and community appropriate telehealth services to the rural communities that currently lack access to resources. One size does not fit all when it comes to mental health, and we want to support the grass roots, community-based organizations who model this.
"So often, prairie folks feel left out, neglected, and on a national level, our experiences seem to often be forgotten or disregarded. The unique struggles ranging from rural, agricultural, specific needs of Indigenous peoples, racial and institutional injustices, struggles with accessibility, so on – are all critical areas of importance that require effective action to ensure the health and safety of our residents – regardless of their socioeconomic, cultural, or geographical statuses. The people who live here know the prairies best and having the chance to speak to someone who has the power and reputation to create positive, long-lasting change and genuinely wants to know what happens here and what some of the triumphs and tribulations we face are is absolutely wonderful and important. I sincerely hope that our recommendations, along with those from the other provinces and territories, are taken seriously and are eventually followed. I trust that there will be future discussion and collaboration, and I hope that the passion, resilience, and critical thought and similar efforts that went into the process of connecting with Minister Chagger do not lose momentum.”
Emily Sather, Saskatchewan
Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut
In the territories, there is limited access to counselling, specifically free counselling, that affects all community members. This gap has significantly increased due to the closure of schools, community centres, in-person counselling, and outreach counsellors. Virtual counselling may not be a solution for communities in which there is a lack of phone and internet access. Additionally, counselling services are not always covered or may have an extra cost that our youth cannot afford. Our recommendation is the implementation of “hubs” in community centres or libraries at which community members can access free mental health resources. The hub would provide a confidential space for community members to connect to counsellors via internet or telephone and access online mental health resources. Implementing this hub will allow our communities to thrive by ensuring that every community member has access to the support they need.
"It was important for me to present to the minister because I so often feel like our voices are not heard by people with the ability to enact change. It can feel like I’m crying out into the void. Especially as a Northerner, it often feels like we don’t have enough voices at the table. To have someone listen was really meaningful, and I hope Minister Chagger continues to listen to our recommendations and our voices continue to be heard. I hope we continue to have this conversation and that our recommendations make a real difference to mental health services in Canada. I hope that we work to include marginalized voices in the conversations. I hope that mental health resources become accessible to all Canadians.”
Nora Vincent-Braun, Yukon