Youth in Vancouver are participating in a pilot project called Core Connectors to teach them about mental health and how to support friends who are struggling.

“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,” says Fred Chou, a PhD candidate in Counselling Psychology at UBC, who is spearheading the project.

Adam’s Apples launched the first Core Connectors last year at Vancouver Technical Secondary School (Van Tech) and expanded this year to include Grade 10 and 11 students from West Point Grey Academy, Van Tech and Wesbrook Community Centre.

Core Connectors brings together groups of students for weekly youth-led discussions on mental health issues with a facilitator and trains them in peer support strategies.

Students talk about the role of technology and social media in helping or hindering mental health and balancing balancing academic expectations with mental health.

Chou explains that the students asked questions about how to support their peers online, what would be helpful to say to friends who are really struggling and what is needed in their communities to safely talk about mental health.

Facilitator Alex Huang says what the kids found most meaningful was that they went beyond relaying facts about depression, anxiety and how to prevent suicide and linked that information to specific skills “such as how to approach peers and how to recognize warning signs for mental health concerns.”

Core Connectors is run by the Adam’s Apples Foundation in partnership with the UBC Centre for Group Counselling and Trauma with funding from Mitacs.

At the end of the 14-week program students receive a certificate and a personalized reference letter to use for job, scholarship or post-secondary applications.

The project is based on the Youth as Gatekeepers (YAG) program that started in Chilliwack.

By Melissa Shaw