Youth Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy with Nora Vincent-Braun

Youth Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy with Nora Vincent-Braun

by Chris Tompkins | March 23, 2023

Bringing a different perspective to the podcast is Nora Vincent-Braun. As a young person and the Be There Network representative for Jack.org, Nora is on the front lines of the mental health epidemic facing her generation. Jack.org does trailblazing work in the field of youth mental health by employing young people from across the country to carry out their mental health outreach initiatives.

Navigating already-choppy waters

Nora says that prior to the pandemic, her peers were already impacted by a number of variables that increased stress and anxiety across the board, citing issues like climate change and the heightened awareness of systemic racism and marginalization. Then when the pandemic hit, causing isolation and the inherent loss of community, it became “so much harder to navigate what [were] already super choppy waters.” Nora goes on to say that one of the major impacts of the pandemic that she has observed among teens and adolescents is a sense of hopelessness, which has them asking: what’s the point?

“Nothing about us, without us”

The thing that sets Jack.org apart is that they draw on young people to lead their initiatives. Youth are heavily involved in all of Jack.org’s programming. Jack Talks places certified young speakers in their communities at schools and community centres to share their stories, educate, and inspire their peers. Jack Chapters are groups of young people at high schools, universities, colleges and community centres, who work together to identify barriers to mental health in their communities. And then the networks all employ a network rep, which is Nora’s role, to “provide feedback on programming to make sure that the youth voice is being heard in programs, and [to ensure] that they’re actually things that youth are interested in and will be engaged in.”

Nora credits the peer-to-peer model with being able to engage youth more meaningfully because they have conversations with their peers rather than being lectured to by someone who’s older. She explains that youth often feel alone in their experiences and a natural reaction to someone who is older is, “you don’t get this. You don’t understand what it’s like to be me.” Nora explains that by implementing the peer-to-peer model like they do, Jack.org breaks down the barrier of age difference, which is an important step in reducing resistance among youth to having conversations about mental health.

The “Be There” five golden rules

When asked about how we as parents can help our kids who are struggling with mental health, Nora gives a breakdown of the five golden rules in the Be There network:

    1. Say what you see: If parents notice a prolonged shift in their child’s behaviour, she encourages them to address it, like, “I notice you don’t like going to soccer practice anymore,” to start the conversation.
    2. Show that you care: Have the conversation at a time when you are present and able to engage. Nora points out that the car is a great place to talk.
    3. Hear them out: Don’t try to solve their problem by changing their soccer practice, for instance. Instead, hear them out by validating their feelings and using empathy.
    4. Connect to help: If you’re able to get them counselling, then connect them with a counsellor.
    5. Know your role: While Nora points out that this step is more applicable to young people supporting their peers because it’s about setting boundaries and protecting your own mental health, as parents we have to realize that we might not necessarily have the tools to help our kids through the situation. It’s more about connecting them with resources and educating ourselves at the same time.

For more on what Nora had to say about her role as a young person advocating for youth mental health, listen to the full episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

[00:00:06.210] – Speaker 1
Well, hey, everyone. Welcome to the show. Today, we’re listening to a different voice. We have Nora Vincent-Braun. Nora is the Be There Network representative for Jack.org, a Canadian charity revolutionizing youth mental health. She’s passionate about creating a more accessible and equitable mental health landscape in Canada. Nora is also a student at the University of Victoria, pursuing a BA in psychology with a minor in education. She’s graduating this spring. Following her undergrad, she hopes to continue her work in mental health advocacy and even pursue a Master’s of Clinical Social Work. In her free time, Nora loves reading, spending time in nature, and creating. She believes art can truly be therapeutic and aims to integrate creativity with her passion for mental wellbeing. It’s a fascinating conversation with a young person about some of the pioneering things that are happening in youth mental health advocacy. I think you’ll find it pretty inspiring, and I think you’ll find it very interesting to hear what’s going on in the world of young people and how many of them are stepping up to make a difference and to help. I think there’s some really practical tools for us to take from this.

[00:01:31.820] – Speaker 1
So without further ado, here’s our interview with Nora Vincent-Braun. Nora, it’s great to have you with us today.

[00:01:45.120] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it’s great to be here.

[00:01:46.540] – Speaker 1
How’s the weather in Victoria, BC? It’s freezing in Ontario today.

[00:01:51.540] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it’s a little grey, but not too cold at all. I think it’s like five degrees here.

[00:01:58.500] – Speaker 1
Well, nice. I’m looking forward to hearing a bit more about the really inspiring work you do. But before we jump into that, our podcast is called Shaping Our World. And so we want to figure out what shaped your world and what continues to shape your world. So what shaped your world when you were growing up, when you were a kid, teenager? What were some of the biggest influences for you?

[00:02:22.890] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So I grew up in Whitehorse, Yukon, and I spent a lot of time in nature, in the bush with my family. Not always super willingly, but I’m super lucky to have gotten to spend so much time outside. I also love to read. I love to do art. I like to write. I was also a really sensitive kid and I think really had to navigate how to be a sensitive person in the world. I felt like a lot of big emotions a lot of time and definitely struggled with my mental health as a young person, which had a big influence on my life. I also played basketball and I loved the sport until I got injured. Oh, wow. I was very academically inclined, so I spent a lot of time doing school.

[00:03:08.410] – Speaker 1
Nice. What is continued on to your world? What’s shaping your world today? Tell us a little bit about you today.

[00:03:14.360] – Speaker 2
It’s a honestly, a lot of the same things. I’m in my last year of my undergrad in psychology and I’m minoring in education. So I’m wrapping up the last four years of school. So I’m still really busy with school. I work, I still love to read, I love to create art. I’m in a print making class right now, which is really fun. It’s nice to have a break from the academic stuff.

[00:03:40.040] – Speaker 1
That’s awesome. I love that we’re used to listening to people who have made careers, long careers working with young people. But I love that we’re getting a younger voice today. You’re a student yourself, and I think it’s a great opportunity for us to get into your world and see how even young people are helping shape the world. So I’m really excited about that. So can you tell us what you’re doing right now? You work with Jack.org, as we heard in the intro, but tell us a little bit more. Talk about how you’re shaping the world of younger people today.

[00:04:18.220] – Speaker 2
Yeah. So I actually do a number of things working with young people, people around my age. So I work at UVic at my university in the Office of Student Life as a peer educator. In this role, I facilitate what we call tools for change workshops, which are sexualized violence prevention workshops. We provide students with an in depth understanding of sexualized violence, how to challenge attitudes and beliefs that lead to sexualized violence, and also some practical tips to meaningfully ask for consent and hear a no. I think this work is so important because it’s so important to have a culture of consent, especially on university and college campuses where this isn’t always the case. It’s a newer opportunity, but I’m so happy to be part of that change. I also work as a chat lead facilitator at U space. Ca, which is an emotional support and crisis chat service. We have incredible volunteers who are available from 6 PM to 12 AM PST to chat with youth across Canada aged 12 to 30 via SMS or IM. They’re all trained in empathic listening and suicide intervention skills training. We listen without judgment and keep all our chats confidential and anonymous.

[00:05:37.780] – Speaker 2
I think offering these chat based crisis services is so important, especially for young people. I remember as a young teen, I reached out to a phone line and I found it really impossible to articulate how I was feeling. I think in part it was also the volunteer on the other end, but I didn’t get the support I was looking for because it was so hard for me to verbalize what I was feeling. I think having tailored services that really allow people to access the support they need in the way they are looking for is so important. So use space. Ca is a great resource. Then, of course, what I’m here to talk about is Jack.org. I’m a network rep for Jack.org, which is an incredible charity revolutionizing youth mental health in Canada. We train youth advocates to really engage with the conversation around mental health, to challenge the status quo, to change the youth mental health landscape. I know we’re going to get a lot more into that, so I’ll leave it at that.

[00:06:41.690] – Speaker 1
That’s great. We’re going to focus in on some of your work with Jack.org, but you’ve got a plethora of experiences that you are on the front line, journeying with your peers and maybe younger students and young people in general. And that’s why I love what we’re going to be able to talk about today because you are right there in the mix of it all day to day. And so right off the bat, when we’re recording this, we’re seemingly coming out of a pandemic that has really impacted mental health and particularly with younger people. Suicide is just an example of an epidemic that affects young people across Canada. Staggeringly, 25% of deaths among young people are suicides now due to some new statistics. Can you talk about what… And I know you were very good at talking about confidentiality and all those things, but broadly speaking, you spend a lot of time listening and journey with your peers and younger people. What’s going on out there that you see with mental health and what conversations are you engaging with quite frequently?

[00:07:54.960] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I think young people, especially with the pandemic, there’s a lot of isolation. And there’s also just a lot of challenging things happening in the world, which absolutely has a negative effect on mental health. If you’re thinking about climate change, the pandemic, more awareness of systemic racialization and marginalization. There’s so many things that really do have a very severe impact on youth mental health and obviously mental health across the board. I think the pandemic did really have a big impact on people’s mental health. In some cases, I think it actually did have a positive impact for some people. I actually know some trans youth who were able to explore their gender identity outside of the confines of school and be able to have that time to themselves to really figure out who they were and how they wanted to express themselves, which I think is beautiful. But I think for a lot of youth that forced isolation had the complete opposite effect. People were stuck with themselves. They didn’t have things to do, they lost senses of community. They didn’t have access to things like sports. For me, growing up, basketball was such a huge impact.

[00:09:10.920] – Speaker 2
It was a place where I got to hang out with other youth and I got to let out steam. So not having access to things like that is a big effect of the pandemic, as well as if you have anything going on at home, not having access to an escape is really challenging.

[00:09:29.880] – Speaker 1
How do all these things impact young people? I think it’s obvious to talk about increased anxiety and stress, but how does that manifest itself in the kids that you’re helping? What are they struggling with at the end of the day?

[00:09:46.780] – Speaker 2
I think increased anxiety and stress, also feelings of hopelessness and what’s the point? There’s so much going on in the world. Why are we even trying to fix things? I think adolescents and young adulthood is already such a challenging time that having all these increased challenges and things in the world, such as the pandemic, really exasperate that and make it so much harder to navigate what is already super choppy waters when you’re a young person. You’re figuring out who you are. Your frontal lobe isn’t fully developed, so you’re reacting to things in ways that you don’t understand. I think for young people, just having that sense of stress or hopelessness is really challenging.

[00:10:39.960] – Speaker 1
Yeah. Well, and that’s where people like you come around. And so you’re one of 13 network representatives representing all different areas across Canada that you speak on behalf of Jack.org, and you specifically represent the Be You Network. Can you tell us a little bit about that and your role and even maybe how you decided to get involved?

[00:11:04.600] – Speaker 2
Yeah, absolutely. It’s actually the Be There Network.

[00:11:07.520] – Speaker 1
Be There, sorry.

[00:11:08.580] – Speaker 2
Yeah, no worries. So I think understanding the role of network rep, I think it’s important for me to share a little bit about the different programming that Jack.org has. So we have a number of different programs targeted towards youth across the country. We have what are called Jack Talks, which we have trained certified young speakers who use the power of personal stories and mental health education to inspire, engage, educate, and equip young people to look out for themselves and their peers. This basically looks like two speakers going into a high school, a university, a community center, and talking about mental health. We have that, Jack Talks. We also have Jack Chapters, which are basically, I describe them as mental health advocacy clubs. They’re groups of young people’s at the same thing high schools, colleges, universities, and community centers who work throughout the year to identify and break down barriers in their communities. And it’s a really great opportunity to form that community to identify challenges and to really work together as well as just having fun and getting to know other people who are passionate about the same things you are. So the chapters are another great thing we have.

[00:12:26.440] – Speaker 2
We have the Be There, which is what I am part of, which is an online resource. It comprises of five golden rules on how to be there for someone who’s struggling with their mental health. And we also have an online two hours certificate, so you can get certified on how to be there for a friend. Then finally, we also have Jack Summits, which we have regional and a national summit. We have four regionals, northern, western, central, which is Ontario and Quebec, as well as the maritime provinces where at summits we have, we get youth together to do workshops, to collaborate on how to identify and break down barriers. We have amazing keynote speakers come in and it’s a weekend long experience to really focus in on what’s going on in the mental health landscape. So back to your question, as a network rep, each of us, we represent our region and provide feedback for a specific program or component of Jack.org. So like you mentioned, I’m one of the Be There Network reps. I have another network rep, her name is Angel, who also advises on the Be There. So we have the opportunity to provide feedback on programming, to make sure that the youth voice is being heard in programs, and that they’re actually things that youth are interested in and will be engaged in.

[00:14:00.380] – Speaker 2
And then obviously, we also speak on behalf of Jack.org. We get to do opportunities like this podcast where we’re talking about Jack.org. We also have the opportunity to propose our own projects. And then all of us also help plan and facilitate the Jack summits.

[00:14:19.040] – Speaker 1
That’s amazing. And that’s one of the things that really has impressed me and intrigued me about your organization and Jack.org is that you partner with young leaders. And in fact, more than partner, young leaders lead. And all across the country to improve mental health outcomes with their own communities. And the speakers are young leaders, like you said, input on program design. So can you tell me why, for you, this is a really successful model? How does youth advocacy and partnering as young people really work? Yeah.

[00:15:00.000] – Speaker 2
So I think there’s two components to this. I think if you’re thinking about young people going in to give us a talk to a high school or something like that, that’s really like having that peer to peer. We’re having a conversation as peers, it’s not someone who’s much older or seems out of touch coming in to try and lecture to young people. I think most of us probably have a memory of interacting with someone who we just was like, You don’t get this. You don’t understand what it’s like to be me. I think as a young person, that’s a very natural reaction. We feel alone in our experiences. I think breaking down that barrier of age difference is just one step that we can take to reducing that resistance to having conversations about mental health. It’s hard to accept a conversation when we don’t really trust the person we’re learning from. I think having that, you use to youth to youth model is really important in settings like the Jack Talks, Jack Chapters. And then I think Jack.org also does a really good job engaging young people within the programming and making sure the youth voice is heard.

[00:16:13.880] – Speaker 2
I think there’s a few things that Jack does really well. One of these things is like closing the feedback loop. So if someone, a staff, an older staff member asks me to advise on a particular area and I give my feedback, they’re not just going to leave me hanging, wondering what happened with my feedback. They’re actually going to come back and say, Hey, Nora, we heard you. This is what we’re doing with your feedback. This is why we can implement it, or this is why some of it isn’t able to be implemented at this time. These are our next steps. How do you feel about that? Is there anything that isn’t sitting right with you? We’re able to have that conversation where it finishes. The conversation has a close instead of just asking for feedback and me not knowing where that feedback has gone.

[00:17:08.760] – Speaker 1
Having this.

[00:17:10.000] – Speaker 2
Transparency, I think, is something that Jack.org does really well. Of course, not everything is perfect. Not everything is ever going to be perfect. I think Jack does a really good job being open about that and letting us know this is a new system. We’re not entirely sure if this is going to work. Let’s give it a try. Let us know how you’re feeling about it. So having that ongoing dialogue, I think, is what makes the peer to peer model so successful.

[00:17:45.240] – Speaker 1
I love how you unpack that specifically within your context, but I think there’s some really good lessons broadly about involving young people in not just ideas, but in coming up with ways to solve or advocate for or be a part of what’s going on in the world. I think sometimes as adults, we’re like, Okay, we’ll listen, but then we’ll go away and we’ll figure out what’s best to do, and then we’ll implement a program. I think what you’re describing with Jack.org is actually a great approach for families, for teachers, for youth leaders to think about the things that they’re doing, from programming to ways to impact the community, to I would say even solving problems in your own house as a family to say, Let’s come together. Kids suggest what to do on the weekend or where to go on a holiday, and you partner in that. I love that because particularly for when we’re doing things to help young people thrive, having them part of it doesn’t just mean it’s going to be a better program at the end of the day. There’s a lot more buy in. So can you talk to me, what does that do for you specifically when you’re being included in that?

[00:19:11.970] – Speaker 1
How does that feel? What does that do for your own personal development beyond the actual programs that help people? What does that do for you when you’re included at that level and given that voice to help make a difference in your community?

[00:19:27.720] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it definitely makes me feel like I’m making an impact and that my voice matters. It is amazing to be able to form those communities. Something that I forgot to mention, but I love the quote, Nothing about us without us. I think this goes for any organization, any facilitating, anything where you’re having a conversation about a particular group of people. It’s impossible to create meaningful engagement unless that group has a seat at the table or is able to lead the table, lead the conversation. I think it feels good. It feels like your voice matters. It’s so important to feel like you matter in dialogues. But like you were saying, in families, in that family home system, if someone is going through something, and as parents, you’re discussing what might be the possible, I don’t like to use the word punishment, but what might be the possible consequence of an action?

[00:20:34.660] – Speaker 2
Include the young person. Say like, Hey, you broke this rule. You know this is a rule. What do we think is a reasonable consequence for you? And having that being involved, because then you know that you have autonomy and you have choice and engagement. And I think it also helps people understand what’s really going on for them and for each other. I think that’s really important.

[00:20:58.260] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s good. I’m just in my head thinking of, what would it look like? My daughter’s a little older now, and so she plays a bit more role. But when your kids are younger, what would it look like? And rather than asking kids what they want to do on a vacation, letting them plan it. Oh, yeah. Like sitting down and having this collaborative conversation. And I just can imagine because you get so much buy in.

[00:21:24.540] – Speaker 2
I think it’s also like, that would be a great opportunity to teach your kids about budgeting and not even just financial budgeting, but like, okay, we have this many days and I’m really hearing that you want to do this thing, but if we do that thing, we’re not going to be able to do these other few things. So about prioritizing and really thinking about what’s important to you. Do you really want to go on that roller coaster? Do you want to go on that hike? And figuring out how to make sure everyone’s happy and everyone in the family is feeling heard. And I think that’s actually a really great example of engaging everyone in the family and working out compromises and including your kids on vacation planning. I think that’s a great idea because it teaches so much more than just, What do I want to do? It teaches the finances, the time management, the compromising, all those skills that are so important in life and also in advocacy work.

[00:22:28.940] – Speaker 1
Yeah. Well, I think that’s a great transition to my next question, which is a big part of what Jack.org does is not only providing mental health support, but educating young people on how they can identify an issue and provide support to their peers and their friends. And they really empower young people. And you’re proof of that today. And one of the things that when you talk about generations and where people are at today, do you think this model works and is really effective because young people today have a growing awareness or desire to make a difference and to shape their world as the podcast? Tell me about what you’re hearing from young people wanting to do something to make change.

[00:23:15.840] – Speaker 2
Yeah, I think youth have always known that they can make a difference. If you look through history, change makers all throughout history have been youth. But I do think that young people today are more connected to a lot of social issues than in the past. Just because we have so much more access to information, obviously, this can have pros and cons. But I think I had Instagram at 11 years old, and I was on advocacy spaces that sometimes I was also on spaces that weren’t always great. So I think social media, like I said, it has pros and cons. But we are more aware of everything that’s going on in the world. And it can be so overwhelming to be completely inundated with the amount of content that is available now, like we were talking about earlier, that can have a really negative effect on your mental health when you’re stressed about climate change, stressed about access to health care, and you’re stressed about access to health care, and you’re stressed about racialisation or any other form of marginalization that you face and just the injustice of the world. But I think that’s where an organization like Jack.

[00:24:23.940] – Speaker 2
Org can be so powerful because we can help provide a starting point for youth to get involved and to learn how to have these conversations about, for us specifically, it’s about mental health and change making, and how to get down and identify where we want to make change and what that change would look like, how to identify the issues and really develop advocacy skills. I think we do have an awareness that we can make a difference. I think we also feel like a calling. A lot of young people I know really feel like they have a moral obligation to make a difference, which can be a big burden. And I think that’s why we need a community to have these conversations in to help relieve some of that burden.

[00:25:11.380] – Speaker 1
That’s so encouraging. And I think there’s also a good group of kids, like you said, that are aware of some of the issues that are going on. They become, like you said, through the social media channels and other things, they’re exposed to things and they feel this like, maybe I want to get involved. But oftentimes they don’t seem to find the pathway into that. So how do we as adults who care about young people, because that’s who most people are listening, how can we encourage kids? What was it for you that made you want to get involved in advocacy and helping your peers? W hat were some of the things, the building blocks, the pathways that were opened up to you that allowed you to be doing what you’re doing? How do we help kids that are like, Oh, I care about this, but I don’t know what to do about it.

[00:26:03.270] – Speaker 2
Yeah. I think you’re asking a few questions there, but for me, I think I definitely struggled with my mental health, and I saw a lot of my peers struggling with their mental health. I think that was one of the reasons that really helped me want to do advocacy work was because I had a personal investment in it. I felt like this is something that needs to change. We’re not feeling comfortable having these conversations. I think when a young person is going through something, it has personal experience. They’re going to be more interested in making a change. I think that’s a really important thing. I think as adults, we can take… Let’s say your kid comes home from school and they’re just so upset because they got dress coded and they really don’t think that what they’re wearing is reasonable. You can help them say, Okay, what can we do about this? Can we write a letter? Can we get a petition going? Can we talk to adult stakeholders in this? Can we investigate, maybe, what are some other things that youth in other communities have done to get rid of unfair or sexist dress codes?

[00:27:21.190] – Speaker 2
And taking any, quote unquote, little problem that your kid is facing and look at it as a lens with like, Okay, I hear you. This is frustrating. I can see how upset you are. How do we change it? You’re feeling frustrated that you don’t feel like your friend is giving the support they need. Okay, how do we change this? Why is this a problem? What can we do next? And help your kids with those steps, making small community local changes.

[00:27:55.780] – Speaker 1
That’s really good. And I think the more, as adults who are in the lives of kids, who we start to hear some Murmurings and some of the issues that are emerging, is also doing our best to educate ourselves on those issues as well. And finding places like Jack.org for mental health or other people that are getting involved that can inspire kids with resources or tools or things that… Even just other examples of how different communities are being shaped around specific issues. You mentioned that with the dress code and things like that, that this is how other schools or other places have done it. I think we can champion and encourage by bringing resources to the table and being part of the conversation and growing in our awareness of what it’s like to navigate some of these situations that young people are struggling. I think that’s really encouraging. I want to talk specifically a bit about mental health. There’s often a stigma around mental health, and it’s really important to tear that down. The very idea of an organization like Jack.org speeds volumes on how the perception of mental health has changed. Can you talk about some of the impacts, the successes, the steps forward you’ve seen as people are starting to recognize and seek help and find communities that can support them when it comes to mental health?

[00:29:24.780] – Speaker 1
How are we helping this crisis that’s going on in young people today?

[00:29:31.040] – Speaker 2
Yeah, absolutely. Even in my own lifetime, the conversation around mental health has changed so much. I remember, I think it was maybe grade five or six, was when we really started to talk about mental health, especially in relation to emerging technology and social media. P ersonally, the way adults, particularly teachers in my life talked about mental health was actually fairly unsafe using language that wasn’t really appropriate and teaching us what was maybe a negative coping skill without providing us with some positive coping skills to counter those negative skills. I absolutely don’t blame these adults because I know it was a new topic for everyone, and I think it was so commendable that these teachers spoke to us about mental health. But some things are done really poorly. I think it’s really important that when we are having a conversation about mental health, that it is an evidence based conversation and that we’re using language that is safe and we’re being open. I think there’s still a long way to go, especially for more stigmatized mental illness. But I do really think that mental health is becoming a more forefront issue. I think a lot of our conversations are opening up, but a lot of services and policies are still lagging behind. So definitely advocating for those policies to catch up to the conversation.

[00:31:05.600] – Speaker 2
And what I’m hearing from young people is that they don’t have access to resources, or they know of resources, and there’s an 18 month waitlist for counseling in their community.

[00:31:16.290] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that is a huge challenge.

[00:31:19.460] – Speaker 2
Oh, it’s so hard. And I think Jack.org has had a great impact. With the Be There program, we’ve had 16,000 people get certified.

[00:31:32.340] – Speaker 1
That’s amazing.

[00:31:34.000] – Speaker 2
And 98 % of the users have reported that it has improved their ability to safely support someone who’s struggling with their mental health.

[00:31:41.950] – Speaker 1
So.

[00:31:44.020] – Speaker 2
Organizations like Jack have absolutely had an impact, and I think will continue to have a major impact.

[00:31:52.310] – Speaker 1
Okay. So, Nora, I want to drill down into some specifics here.

[00:31:56.540] – Speaker 1
Okay. Because I’m sure there’s people in my generation, I’m in my late 40s, right? I’ve been working with young people most of my life, so I understand a lot of things that you’re saying. But I’m sure there’s some adults that are like, I’m not trying to have an unsafe conversation, but maybe I am. What some advice you would give to a parent whose child or someone… They know they’re struggling with mental health and they’re starting to talk about it. From your perspective, what are some do’s and don’ts that would be really helpful for parents or teachers or youth workers to have those conversations?

[00:32:37.650] – Speaker 2
Yeah. I can give an example of what I mean by the unsafe thing. We had a couple situations in my elementary schools or early high schools where we had a big group of students and teachers told us about things like cyber bullying or suicide or self harm. We had a two hour conversation about this, and then we were on our way. And for a lot of us, that was the first time we had ever heard of self harm. We didn’t know what that was. And all of a sudden, we knew about this potential coping tool that we hadn’t heard about before, but we didn’t know what else was out there and how to cope more healthily with our big feelings. So making sure that when you’re having a conversation, you know what the kid knows about, and you know what the young person, what knowledge they already have. They might totally know about these things. But I do want to make sure I’m saying asking about suicide isn’t going to put the idea of suicide in someone’s head. That is absolutely a myth. If you think someone is thinking about suicide, ask them, say what you’re noticing and why you’re concerned and say, I’m wondering, are you thinking about suicide?

[00:33:57.400] – Speaker 2
It’s not going to put the idea in someone’s head. But making sure that when we’re having these conversations, we’re doing it in a safe way. So we’re not mentioning specifics or graphic details, especially unsolicited. And then I can give a little breakdown of the be there, five golden rules. We have say what you see, and this is what I mentioned. So that is when you’re noticing a prolonged, intense feeling. Maybe your child isn’t wanting to go to soccer practice anymore and they love soccer and it’s been two weeks and they haven’t wanted to go to soccer, you can say, Hey, I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to be interested in soccer anymore. Something going on. And not making an assumption that maybe they’re being bullied at soccer practice or something else is happening. But just saying what you see and asking what’s happening for you, showing that you care. So have this conversation at a time that you’re actually present and able to engage, one place that’s actually a really good place for parents and kids to have conversations is in the car because then you don’t have to look at each other. I love that one.

[00:35:11.910] – Speaker 2
But showing that you care and offering support to e’ve got, say what you see, show you care, hear them out. So listen, give them space. Don’t try to solve the problem. Don’t try to say, oh, let’s change your soccer team. Let’s do this. Let’s just hear them out. Validate their experiences. Use empathy.

[00:35:33.880] – Speaker 1
Just listen.

[00:35:36.040] – Speaker 2
Then we have Connect to Help.

[00:35:39.380] – Speaker 2
That would be if you’re able to access a counselor, get them counseling, and then we have know your role. This one is a little bit different for parents because your role is a caregiving role. So this is maybe not as applicable, but you’re not necessarily their counselor, you might not have those tools to really help them. So being able to connect them to resources or get education yourself to have those conversations. This one, knowing your role, I think is a little bit more applicable to young people supporting their friends. It’s about setting boundaries to protect your relationship and your mental health. But as a parent, that is your role to a large extent.

[00:36:26.140] – Speaker 1
It’s probably good advice, though, for teachers or youth workers as well to understand their role when these things come up as well. I think that’s really good. Those are five really helpful tips and tools that I think are really important. Like you said, mental health is not, even with it becoming more common, it’s not an easy thing for most of us to talk about. I love just the ability you’ve had to talk about it and the role that you play with helping so many of your peers in that. So you mentioned the five… What is it? Golden rules? Five golden rules.

[00:37:09.550] – Speaker 1
Yeah. With to be there. Is this something parents should, could take, youth workers, teachers, tell us a bit more about, if we’re parents, what are some resources out there that either we can tap into to help learn more about mental health and the challenges that we’re facing today and some really positive solves like you’ve talked about, or that we can point our young people, our kids to? And you can talk about the stuff that you do at Jack.org. And are there other things that you know? You mentioned, I think you said, use space, other crisis lines or different things like that, if you could list some of your top resources to equip parents to get involved or to become more aware of mental health advocacy. Yeah.

[00:37:57.740] – Speaker 2
I think the B there certificate is definitely something parents can and should take. They will probably notice that a lot of the examples are maybe a little bit more geared towards young people. But I think it’s important to take things, especially if you might then recommend for your child to take it. I think if you have the ability or the resource, Living Works has some really amazing workshops about mental health specifically. If you have the capacity, because it is a 15 hour workshop, a assist, which is applied suicide intervention skills training is a super great one. They also have safe talk, which is a shorter one, so it might be a little bit more accessible to a lot more parents. My mom is actually taking ASIST, and I’m super proud of her for doing it because it is relevant to her work, too. But I think the more people we can have who have suicide intervention skills, the better. Use space is a great chat line. We are geared towards people under 30, but it’s absolutely a great thing to even just say to your kid, Hey, I’ve noticed that things have seemed really hard. I understand that you might not want to talk to me about it.

[00:39:13.300] – Speaker 2
It can be awkward to talk to your parent about things, or your teacher, or whomever you are to this child, but here’s a resource, usbase. Ca. They can listen to you. Since usbase is only open for six hours a night, kids’ help phone is also a good one. And then just doing some research. I know on Jack.org, we do have some more resources. Uspace. Ca also has a list of a lot of resources. There’s also some guides to supporting people, but be there. Org is a great starting place. Then if you’re able to, getting into a more intensive workshop as well as… Honestly, I think it’s super important for adults to be able to talk about their own mental health. So if it’s accessible, I really think parents should be in.

[00:40:08.160] – Speaker 1
Counseling.

[00:40:09.100] – Speaker 2
Or support group, or have a walking friend who’s another parent, and that you just bounce ideas off of each other.

[00:40:16.340] – Speaker 1
I think that’s really good advice. I know myself, I’m in therapy because it always helps navigate the things that are going on in our own heads and our own lives. And I think that’s really, really important. And thanks nice for sharing that. So ton of resources. My parents are probably pausing and writing things down. Jack.org is a great place to start as well with a lot of things there. And even maybe with your kids to show them what’s happening in the younger world as far as advocacy and support for mental health. I think that’s great. So I have two quick last questions. Okay? Okay. So the first one is, beyond being… So we’ve realized, finding a place, a safe place to talk is a really important thing for mental health. That’s the work that you’re doing. What else is helping young people on the positive side manage some of their own mental health challenges? If you’re a parent or a youth worker, what are you helping kids get involved in or do that beyond talking to somebody? What helps young people today with managing their mental health?

[00:41:31.100] – Speaker 2
I definitely think a lot of the same things that help adults. So exercise, having community, having art. I think it is hard to impose these on a young person. Every time I go out in nature and I go for a walk and I feel better, I’m like, My mom was right. I never, ever wanted to go for a walk when I was upset when I.

[00:41:54.660] – Speaker 1
Was 15. We won’t tell her, Nora. We won’t tell her.

[00:41:57.710] – Speaker 2
I know. That’s exactly the thing. When we’re young, we’re trying to find our autonomy, our independence. We don’t necessarily want our parents to help. We don’t necessarily want the adults in our life to tell us what they think a solution is. So I definitely think like giving space, letting your kids really explore what might be helpful for them and offering to do things together, but not taking it personally if they don’t want to. So say like, Hey, do you want to go for a walk, a drive? But don’t take it personally if they don’t.

[00:42:31.380] – Speaker 1
Want to. That’s the hardest part about the whole thing you said is it’s easy to ask. It’s a little more difficult to not take it personally, but that’s really great advice. Yeah. No, that’s really good. I wonder if you could give any final thoughts or words of encouragement right now to parents specifically or teachers or youth workers who are working really hard through a challenging situation with their kids, particularly around mental health right now. What’s a final pep talk or encouragement you could give them from your perspective?

[00:43:05.340] – Speaker 2
Take the be there certificate.

[00:43:07.880] – Speaker 1
That’s a good start.

[00:43:09.400] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it’s a great start. I also think like what I just said, if your kid is going through a tough time, it’s likely that they’re going to push you away. It’s really hard to not take it personally, but try not to. Keep loving them, keep supporting them. Adolescent years might feel really disconnected, but it’s so worth it sticking with them through the challenges and really try not to take it personally. And if you’re able to, seeking your own support is really important because you have such an emotional investment in your child’s wellbeing, especially if we’re talking about a parent, but it’s hard for a youth worker or a teacher or anyone really to know that someone else is struggling and not feel equipped to support them. So seeking counseling, seeking a support group, doing research. There’s so many amazing books out there, podcasts like this one. And really, I think if you’re listening to this podcast and you’ve made it this far, you probably are on the right steps.

[00:44:11.360] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s good. Well, thank you for being with us, Nora. I just want to encourage you in all the work you’re doing in many different places and spaces to champion and be an advocate for young people and some of the cultural and social issues that young people in all our world faces today. Appreciate you. Appreciate the work you do at Jack.org, and thanks for stopping by and having this conversation with us.

[00:44:35.860] – Speaker 2
Yeah, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
Button for Apple Music
Button for Apple Music
Google Play button

Recent Posts

Building Strong Family Connections with Aly Pain

Building Strong Family Connections with Aly Pain

Parenting expert, life coach, and relationship systems coach, Aly Pain, returns to the podcast to talk about how parents can nurture and strengthen their relationship with their teens. Her belief is that neither parenting a teen nor being a teen has to be as hard as...

Truth, Reconciliation and Community: Insights from Natasha Maxwell

Truth, Reconciliation and Community: Insights from Natasha Maxwell

Natasha Maxwell is the first female supervisor of the Neyaashiinigmiing First Nations Police Service on the Neyaashiinigmiing reserve, which is situated on the eastern shore of the Bruce Peninsula on Georgian Bay. After having worked for York Regional Police for 15...

Nurturing Faith and Confidence in Today’s Youth with Brad Griffin

Nurturing Faith and Confidence in Today’s Youth with Brad Griffin

Brad Griffin is Senior Director of Content and Research at the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth ministry leaders and families. He has co-authored more than 15 books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That...

Popular Categories

Follow Us

OCA logo
Our kids logo
CEO Logo

Accredited with Ontario School Boards