Candle ceremony kicks off girls’ mental health program

Girl Guides of Canada host candle ceremony for launch of new program

Hundreds of “magic candles” punctured the sheet of fog over Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday.

Small, battery-powered candles were a symbol at Shine a Light On Mental Health, the kickoff event for Girl Guides of Canada’s (GGC) new national program, Mighty Minds. It is the first mental health program in Canada  tailored to issues faced by girls at different stages of life. 

“I think it’s incredibly poetic that it’s so dark and foggy and we have our lights shining through,” said guider Kelly Hall, better known by the Sparks, Brownies and Guides at the 125th unit as Bubbles.

Guides chief commissioner Pamela Rice first turned on her candle, then touched it to the candle of a girl guide, who turned hers on. Each girl guide tapped and “lit” their candles until the cluster of girls on stage was alight. The crowd then clicked their candles on, cheered, and speckled the blanket of fog as they waved hundreds of tiny lights in the air.  

Cheryl Pounder, two-time Olympic gold medalist with the Canadian women’s hockey team, ambassador for Mighty Minds and former Brownie, encouraged the cheering crowd to hold their lights high.

“When I see light I see hope, and for me hope is something that burns inside of you,” Pounder said. “Even when you’re dark you can lean on someone else to light your hope a little bit.”

Pounder’s two daughters inspired her to join the program. She is the coach of a novice girl’s hockey team, and intends to teach them Mighty Minds between practices and games.

“[I’ll] have time to throw in activities about being kind, and what it means to understand your emotions,” Pounder said. “Whether you’re a young adult, an adult, a senior, or a Spark at only five to six years of age, you’ve got to get to know yourself, and that stems from understanding your emotions.”

Mighty Minds began after multiple girl guides wanted to talk about mental health, said Jill Zelmanovits, CEO of Girl Guides of Canada. The organization noticed that there are no mental health programs made specifically for girls. GGC then teamed up with Kids Help Phone and The Psychology Foundation of Canada to create Mighty Minds — the first program of its kind in Canada.

Mighty Minds includes six informational booklets: five specific to each age group of girl guides, from five-year-old Sparks to 17-year-old Rangers, and one for those teaching the program. The booklets are available to everyone, and are now beginning to be taught to GGC’s 70,000 members.

The booklets are full of exercises and information to help girls create a positive relationship with mental health. They also teach skills to cope with mental health-related challenges and combat stigma around mental illness.

Mental health challenges unique for girls

press release by GGC said about one-third of girls do not tell anyone about mental health concerns. Young women are also hospitalized for suicide attempts at triple the rate of young men.

For girls, half of all mental health issues develop before age 14. Zelmanovits said this is why the program is specifically crafted for every age group of guides, including five-year-old Sparks.

“It’s not enough to just start in high school once the problems have developed,” Zelmanovits said. “Issues like resilience and stigma – girls don’t all necessarily have that vocabulary.”

Zelmanovits described one of Mighty Minds’ activities for Sparks: Symphony of Emotions. The girls brainstorm a list of emotions, then stand in a line. They are given a certain emotion, and a “conductor” points to a certain girl. Then they must express that emotion without words.

“It sounds like it’s really simple but they end up identifying emotions,” Zelmanovits said. “They think, ‘This is what my face looks like when I have this emotion. Somebody next to me might make a totally different face. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel that, it just means she has a different way of showing it.’”

Zelmanovits said these lessons lay the groundwork for understanding and learning coping skills for more serious mental health issues. The program teaches more serious themes like body image and suicidal thoughts in later years.