Changing Perspectives and Providing Services: A Forum on Youth Mental Health

The Niagara District Council of Women is holding a Forum on Youth Mental Health — Changing Perspectives and Providing Services at the St. Catharines Central Library on Wednesday, January 8, 2020. The panel for this forum will include the advocacy team, called ‘Change the Perspective’, whose members experienced mental health challenges are successfully living with mental illness.

“The key to the groups success lies in telling their life stories in order to break the stigma and reveal the face of mental illness through education and sensitivity,” said team co-ordinator Cheryl Booth, from Gateway Residential and Community Services in Welland.

“[Mental illness] often takes a long time to go away or doesn’t go away at all,” said Gracia Janes, president of the Niagara District Council of Women. “There may be some hard topics, like rape or abuse, that will not be focused on but can be brought up when the speakers are talking about their personal experiences and how they began to struggle with mental health.”

Other members of the panel will include Bill Helmeczi, Director of Strategic Standards and Practices for Pathstone Mental Health, who will highlight the efforts made by this organization to provide much-needed youth services region-wide. He will be able to discuss the services available to persons living with a mental illness as well as those for caregivers or loved ones supporting them.

Pathstone, for example, in partnership with the District School Board of Niagara, has recently set up day-treatment classes in Welland’s Eastdale Secondary School and over the past few years have established youth ‘Hear and Now Walk-In’ clinics in Welland, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Grimsby, Beamsville, Port Colborne and St. Catharines. The day treatment classes cater to students who are unable to benefit from a regular school program because of their behavioural, emotional and learning disorders and allows for the extensive participation of parents in treatment planning, parent training and family counselling and therapy. The forum also seeks to focus on youth mental health and illness.

“I think we are now recognizing that the youth have more challenges than we did growing up,” said Gracia. “With social media and the internet there is the risk of cyber bullying or feeling isolated.”

As such the forum will discuss not just physical resources available, but those that can be accessed online as well. There will also be aspects of how the youth can protect themselves from this increased risk over the internet and how to deal with it if it does arise.

The Niagara District Council of Women often submits resolutions to the provincial and national councils for consideration and ratification as policy. After the forum on Jan. 8, it is likely there will be a resolution drafted on mental health, like the ones they have submitted on the environment and gender equality.

“You can’t just say something has to be some way when there is no policy, well we are actually doing something,” said Gracia.

The forum hopes to improve understanding of mental illnesses in order to mitigate and the stigma surrounding mental illness. In addition, this forum will educate people struggling with mental health on the resources available to them for help and support.

The council holds forums like this every month on a variety of topics. Information on this and other events can be found online on their website 

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