A national suicide prevention organization that focuses on Indigenous youth has been finding creative ways to adapt their outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We Matter is an Indigenous youth-led and nationally registered organization dedicated to Indigenous youth support, hope and life promotion. It has been increasing online efforts in the past few months, as they can't do in-person outreach in small communities with current restrictions.
Frances Elizabeth Moore, director of Operations and Outreach for We Matter, says the organization is working to break stigmas about mental health.
"In many of our communities, there was this culture of don't talk about it. And now we're really starting to shift that culture and reduce some of the stigma around talking about mental health."
She said the organization has heard of varying responses to the pandemic from youth across the country.
"We knew the gravity of some of the inequity, we knew how Indigenous youth are treated differently, and [the pandemic] just highlighted it in so many ways," said Moore.
They heard concerns around qualifying for CERB, worries around food insecurity, anxiety over elders in communities, internet access and more.
Social media has been a big part of their outreach, she said, and also making sure that they have resources easily available for youth and educators on their website.
"We're pushing resources right now, reminding youth and folks who support youth … that there are resources out there that are accessible," said Moore.
The organization has a group of Indigenous youth from across the country called the Ambassadors of Hope, who have been trained to give hope, culture, and strength presentations within their own community and surrounding region.
"We've also seen amazing things when it comes to youth advocating for themselves, advocating for others … we've seen amazing different projects."
One of the projects that came out of the pandemic was Indigenous youth rise COVID-19 support fund. It was originally intended to be a mini grant program that would have started in May, but that got side-tracked by the pandemic.
It has now funded over $10,000 worth of projects, including everything from beading projects to rez dog meme competitions to dancing lessons online, said Moore.
Youth and communities can apply for up to $500 to create some form of online programming that supports mental health.
"These youth are engaging in their communities and helping to start some conversations… also reminding other youth that even though they are somewhat isolated ... they're still all connected."
This week marked World Suicide Prevention Day, and Moore said she wants youth in the North to remember how loved they are.
"Know that you are loved, that you are cared for, that you are supposed to be here ... while it might feel kind of hopeless right now, there's a way forward."
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, the Crisis Services Canada website is a resource. You can also call them toll-free at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645. The Indian Residential School Resolution Health Support Program, Northern Region can be reached toll-free at 1-800-464-8106.