Just wow. I don’t even know where to begin.
My last two days have been spent at the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative Congress in Kelowna. This gathering brings together family doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, police, youth with mental illness, parents of those with mental illness, social workers, nurses, MLA’s, and others involved in the health care field.
The congress consists of breakout sessions, panels, speeches and presentations where we come together to talk about mental health, what needs improving, and what we have improved over the past year (this collaborative has been going on for about a year).
I was at the congress as a youth volunteer with the FORCE Society for Kids. The F.O.R.C.E. Society for Kids' Mental Health is a provincial organization that provides families with an opportunity to speak with other families who understand and may be able to offer support or advice on what has worked for them. The F.O.R.C.E. also provides families and professionals with information, tools, and tips on how to support and assist children with mental health difficulties. The FORCE mandate is to support and empower families and work collaboratively with professionals and systems in understanding and meeting the mental health needs of families.
As a youth representative during the past two days, I was able to meet other youth and hear their stories. We conducted a “Jam Session” on Monday after the regular congress, where we took questions from the professionals regarding improving C&Y mental health systems, answered and discussed them together, then presented the answers the next day. It was A-MAZING to see the passion and drive these young people have. I can remember being their age (yes, I know, I’m not that old. But I still had about 5-10 years on the rest of the youth) and being absolutely terrified to talk about my mental illness. These young people not only are okay with talking about it, but they want to use their experiences to better the system. They want to help others. How amazing is that? I think I actually had tears in my eyes at one point listening to the youth express their concerns and changes they believe need to be made in the future – all to help others so they don’t fall through the cracks. Okay – yeah, I definitely had tears.
I was lucky enough to be able to present these answers the next day with Brent Seal at the keynote presentation. Bright and early! Now, I have never spoken to such a large crowd before. I’ll be the first to admit there was feelings of wanting to vomit and maybe some sweating involved before I got up there. But man, was it awesome. How rewarding it is to be able to speak to the people that work in the mental health field about our experiences. I can’t even 100% explain the gratitude I feel. There was a lady who stood up after who had been on my twitter and explained that she felt our hearts were connected, and that what I was doing was great. I wish I could tell her again how thankful I am that she told me that. It’s comments like that, that reach my soul and keep me pushing forward.
There may have been another teary eye. It may sound excessive, the tears, but this is our reality – raw emotion. We are faced with challenges every day (not wanting to get up in the morning, forcing ourselves to brush our teeth – pushing through daily living) and to have health professionals recognize our struggles and make the system better for us…..there are no words to describe how thankful we are.
Looking at the people in attendance, there were an amazing variety of professions all coming from different backgrounds and walks of life. And they were all there for us. So thank you. Thank you – so very much. And please remember to keep the youth voices in mind when making future changes.