Local students helped organize the Balancing our Minds Youth summit, held in Penticton on March 10, to talk about youth mental health. Submitted photo

Youth summit breaks silence about mental health

About 200 youth from around the Okanagan took part in a day-long mental healt summit last week

Penticton youth spent an intensive day last week talking about mental health and how it relates to them and their communities.

The March 10 event was the first of four Balancing Our Minds youth summits planned for coming months in B.C. The free one-day events are led by youth, for youth to talk about mental health, break down stigma and connect people to resources in their communities.

“There has been some serious moments in the day, in the speeches and there has also been some funny ones, so we have been able to release emotions and discuss the dynamics of mental wellness,” said Victoria Richie, a Penticton Secondary School student and a youth organizer for the event.

Richie said she could see her peers getting engaged during the event, which included a keynote speech from two-time Grey Cup champion Shea Emry and workshops ranging from a guided yoga practice to ways to promote a positive body image, even learning how to share their personal experiences.

“We had two youth from Summerland talk about the work they are doing … how to make other people feel comfortable and learn more about how to share their journey as well,” said Richie. “Tips and tricks about how to open up to people and be confident with their stories.”

Richie went on a guided hike led by Emery, aimed at helping the participants connect with nature and being comfortable with themselves.

“We reflected a lot of moods and how we were feeling. At the start of the hike, some kids were nervous about it, the weather was snowy, so they weren’t super excited about being outside,” said Richie. “As we went on and we appreciated everything, people became more positive and the way they described their mood at the end of the hike was completely different than how they did at the beginning. They seemed to be more open and engaged.”

Paul Irving, project co-ordinator with the health literacy team at B.C. Children’s Hospital, which sponsored the event, said he was impressed by the courage of the students, both the youth organizers that stepped up to help put it together and those who shared their stories.

“I think the main thing we are learning is creating a safe and supportive environment for all the students attending to share tips, to share maybe some of their own experiences, connect, learn about what else they can do in their schools, what other students are doing in their schools to support mental health and wellness,” said Irving.

“It showed me that we all have to support each other,” said Richie. “It’s not about one person helping themselves, it’s everyone being inclusive, being welcoming and feel strong as well.”

Four summits are scheduled from April to May — Surrey, Vancouver Island and Northern B.C. — and are an initiative of B.C. Children’s Hospital, supported by the Canucks for Kids Fund. The Balancing Our Minds summit began in Vancouver, attracting more than 1,000 annually since its inception in 2014.