HURON-PERTH – You Matter is a collaborative, youth-focused, community-involved mental health and well-being initiative created by the Avon Maitland District School Board (AMDSB), in partnership with the community agency Rural Response for Healthy Children. The initiative is also supported by the Trillium and Tanner Steffler Foundations.
You Matter empowers youth leaders to support mental health and well-being by developing, leading, implementing, and monitoring initiatives in their schools.
The main components include an annual symposium, at which students learn about mental health, well-being and leadership, and monitor the improvement of student wellness in resilience and self-regulation. This year the You Matter 2 symposium was held as a virtual event on Jan. 19.
“The You Matter 2 was very well attended,” said Dr. Lisa Walsh, director of education. “The school board in theory is supposed to look after what we call tier-one responses which are helping kids to be aware of the stigma associated with mental health issues and to provide general support.”
Mental health and well-being initiatives at schools are planned, implemented, and monitored by AMDSB school teams and there are ongoing collaborations with community partners.
The “YOU (TH) Matter in AMDSB” report was compiled by a research team from Queen’s and Western universities and provides an overview of the key learnings from the event held in January. It describes the ongoing support available to students in AMDSB and outlines the initiative’s plans.
More than 250 students from Grades 6-12 and approximately 80 adults from across 41 AMDSB schools participated in the You Matter 2 virtual event. Also, three dignitaries, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, Randy Pettapiece, MPP Perth-Wellington, and Lisa Thompson, MPP Huron-Bruce, joined the event to learn about the work being done.
According to the report which is available at amdsb.ca/mentalhealth, research shows that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence and that young people aged 15-24 are more likely to experience mental illness or substance use issues than any other age group. Although 20 per cent of Canadians will develop a mental health issue by age 25, AMDSB is attempting to make a difference by supporting students who are struggling and those who are experiencing mental health and well-being issues. There is a growing body of evidence about the importance of promotion, prevention, and early interventions related to youth mental health and well-being.
One approach being used by AMDSB is to involve youth in programming. Youth-led programming creates opportunities for the community and young people to collaborate, and when youth are provided with the appropriate tools, they can create lasting change for themselves and their communities.
You Matter 2 student participants identified six big ideas that they wanted to learn more about: coping techniques, school plans, supporting others, MHWB education, resources, and stigma reduction.
Almost 80 per cent of the participants identified feeling empowered to make a difference with mental health and well-being in their classrooms and schools.
Researchers identified five themes consistent with challenges to seeking support from data collected from the students, and they are: concerns about stigma, fear of embarrassment, accessibility, lack of privacy, and technology issues.
Ongoing plans to help promote mental health and well-being in all schools across the region include student-led activities, ongoing communication between the You Matter inquiry and school teams and capacity-building webinars for students entitled ‘Research Rocks.’
School teams will be brought together again at a virtual even in June to reflect, share and celebrate their mental health and well-being.
“We have sent a package of social-emotional learning activities that teachers can do with their students and these are things like how do you decrease stress, what are coping strategies that we can develop, how do we process the challenges of our times and just regular challenges associated with mental health and well-being,” said Walsh.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner