Forum on youth mental health brings together East York residents and outreach workers

Residents discuss mental health challenges at community meeting

Danforth Multifaith Commons 310 Danforth ave
Danforth Multifaith Commons, September 2021. (Photo: Google Street View) 

A Youth Mental Health Forum was held at Eastminster United Church in East York on February 6th. It gave local community members an opportunity to hear from the panel of peer support and outreach workers about programs created to help youth in the Pape and Danforth area.

Organized by the Danforth Multifaith Commons as part of their Social Justice Speakers Series, the panel featured representatives from Michael Garron Hospital, Stella’s Place, Woodgreen Community Services, and Boultbee Outreach Services. The four organizations operate youth outreach services throughout the Danforth strip; working to provide specialized programs, drop ins, and housing referral services to youth, based on principles around safety, equity, and community.

The forum discussions centered around challenges to accessing support and the impact it has on youth’s mental and developmental health. The panel also highlighted how outreach organizations are working together to ensure there are services and supports in place for all community members.

Panelist, Vanessa Wu is Manager of Youth Programs at Woodgreen Community Services. She described how the programs they provide are tailored to youth ages 16-24 from vulnerable communities.

“The youth wellness center was started 4 years ago with the intention of creating a one stop, multi service facility where young people, particularly those from underserved communities can access the supports and services they need to survive.” she explained.

‘an equity issue’

Panel members agreed that creating a space of safety for marginalized people is paramount to their work. They also agreed that addressing equity issues facing youth is tantamount to aiding their mental health. They suggested that helping youth in more practical ways, such as assistance with food, housing, financial and educational supports is an impactful but overlooked way to help with their mental health.

“The thing that really starts to stand out for me is this notion that its hard to divorce mental health from equity for me,” Said Asante Houghton, Peer Initiative Consultant at Stella’s Place. “Somewhere imbedded in almost every mental health challenge, is an equity issue.”

Houghton also discussed the ways that he and other members of Stella’s Place works in concert with youth to create a place of safety.

“On average, [youth involved in the system] see around 25 – 40 interveners in their life…what if we are the last ones? What if when someone comes to work with me or work with us at Blake Boultbee Outreach, that we’re that last therapist. That last counselor?” Suggested Rod Cohen.

Lack of continuity between programs proves challenging

According to Youth Mental Health Canada an estimated 1.2 million youth in Canada will be affected by mental health challenges and less than 20 percent of them will receive adequate treatment. By age 25, 20 percent of all Canadians will develop a mental health issue requiring some form of ongoing care. These are pre-pandemic figures. Unfortunately, transitioning that care from youth into adulthood can prove challenging as there is rarely continuity between programs.

The panel mentioned warning signs that may suggest a young person is becoming overwhelmed. Riyan, one of two peer support workers in the Transitional Youth Program at Michael Garron Hospital said signs like school avoidance, being too tired to attend or skipping classes, can be indicators of a youth being overcome by their challenges.

“The impacts it has on a students’ life and the family dynamics at home, this is something that we’re seeing quite often among the people that we are supporting.” he said.

Danforth Multifaith Commons, the group responsible for organizing the event is made up of a long-term partnership between The East End United Regional Ministry, the Danforth Jewish Circle, and the Danforth Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The three congregations came together to formalize their long term partnership.

Liat Radcliffe Ross, a Danforth Jewish Circle congregant and one of the event organizers, said the groups share similar values around social and environmental justice and inclusivity. “Our congregations embrace people from all backgrounds and walks of life.” she said.

Near the nights end Asante Houghton provided a call to action when he said, “We often ask young people; what’s wrong with you? When we should be asking; what’s wrong?”

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Posted: Feb 20 2024 4:06 pm
Filed under: Mental Health News