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Vancouver, BC — The school year may be coming to a close, but a group of grade 10 and 11 Vancouver students who are participating in a one-of-a-kind pilot project are already thinking about the changes they can make to nip mental illness in the bud once school resumes in the fall.
The project, called the Core Connectors Initiative, is all about teaching mental health literacy to youth — a demographic where mental health issues are at the forefront. It is run by Adam’s Apples Foundation in partnership with UBC Centre for Group Counselling and Trauma, with funding from Mitacs.
“There has been a vast movement towards mental health awareness, but what we’re teaching is mental health literacy – how to support and identify a friend in need of help, and when to involve an adult or professional to intervene,” said Mitacs researcher Fred Chou, a PhD candidate in Counselling Psychology at UBC, who is spearheading the project. “Prevention is vital when dealing with mental illness and the Core Connectors Initiative aims to do just that.” Launched this past school year, the project brings together groups of students at two local high schools and a community centre for weekly training by adult facilitators. This training involves learning about mental health and wellness and how to recognize when a peer is struggling so steps can be taken to support them. In addition, students are encouraged to work together with facilitators to develop strategies to contribute to mental health literacy within their schools and communities.
“It is valuable for teens to engage in meaningful conversations about mental health not only with adults but also with their peers,” Chou said, explaining that the program was designed to be carried out in group settings so that students can learn from each other and have a platform to talk openly about relevant issues.
“The more silencing, the more shame — this program focuses on having youth build trust with each other and with adult facilitators who model how to have healthy discussions about topics that can seem taboo,” he added.
With the intention of expanding the program to additional schools in September, Chou explained: “The social connections promoted through this program are key to fostering resilience and preventing future mental health challenges.”