Mental health advocate slated to speak with Yukon students

A national mental health expert is in Whitehorse this week to talk to students about the stigma that surrounds people with mental illnesses.

A national mental health expert is in Whitehorse this week to talk to students about the stigma that surrounds people with mental illnesses.

Micheal Pietrus, director of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, will be the keynote speaker on June 9 at the Mental Health Association of Yukon’s barbecue fundraiser. That same day he’ll be speaking to students at Porter Creek High School about young people’s experience with stigma.

He wants to speak to youth who might be experiencing mental illness to assure them that help is available. He also wants to encourage everyone to be supportive of people who might be struggling.

“What I’m hoping is that I get people talking about it and beginning to reconsider how they look at mental illness,” he said.

“Part of breaking down the stigma barrier is getting people talking about it and normalizing it.”

It’s important that students learn about some of the myths surrounding mental illness so they can support friends or family members who might be suffering instead of falling for stereotypes, he said.

According to Pietrus, about 70 per cent of people who report having mental health problems say the symptoms started in their teen years.

That means young people need to feel comfortable stepping forward and asking for help if they start feeling unwell.

But when one of the most common stigmas around mental illness is the false belief that the person is “damaged goods” or weak and without hope, taking that step can be difficult, he said.

Teens are particularly sensitive to that kind of stigma, especially when it is coming from their family or friends.

“They take it more personally because they’re experiencing it for the first time,” Pietrus said.

“They haven’t developed the coping mechanisms or strategies that, say, perhaps somebody who has been dealing with it for a number of years has developed.”

Stigma for young people with mental illnesses can translate into more bullying at school and being ostracized from their friends, he said.

“They begin to see themselves in that negative way and therefore they become withdrawn and that is really quite potentially harmful to them.”

The mental health commission is funded by Health Canada. It has worked on Canada’s national mental health strategy and is responsible for helping governments and community organizations improve the mental health system.

The commission has studied dozens of programs aimed at reducing stigma and dispelling myths about mental illness to try to determine which programs work well. That research led to the creation of the Headstrong program.

In 2014 the commission helped run “regional summits” in seven provinces and the Northwest Territories as part of the program.

High school students and teachers learn about mental health and are trained at these summits to go back to their schools to set up programs.

They learn how to run assemblies, hold competitions and find public speakers, all aimed at reducing stigma and stereotypes around mental health.

“When we begin to see that people can get better and do get better it really begins to change our perception,” Pietrus said.

The Headstrong program worked with more than 400 high schools and an estimated 186,000 high school students eventually took part in the program, he said.

The commission tries to measure its success when it comes to changing people’s minds.

Participants at the summits are asked to take a survey before they take part in the program, after the events and then again three months later.

The survey has questions like: “Would you be friends with somebody who had a mental illness?” or “Would you date somebody who had a mental illness?”

The testing found upwards of a 15 to 20 per cent improvement in people’s answers after the summits, according to Pietrus.

Pietrus said he would love to be able to bring the program to Yukon schools and is hoping to meet with educators and public officials when he is here.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maura Forrest/Yukon News File photos from Beaver Creek White River First Nation
Bessie Chassé elected as new chief of White River First Nation

“I was happy that the membership saw that I was ready for this position.”

X
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for April 21, 2021.… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Returning students and seasonal workers encouraged to get the vaccine while self-isolating in Yukon

Yukon health care system has few resources to offer to struggling provinces, said Hanley.

Inside the courtroom in Whitehorse, Chief Electoral Officer Max Harvey, Vuntut Gwitchin returning officer Renee Charlie and Supreme Court Judge Suzanne Duncan open the box containing the names of the tied candidates. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Annie Blake elected as MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin after name draw

“I’m still feeling shocked that my name was drawn, I feel overwhelmed.”

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Yukon MP Larry Bagnell speaks at an announcement in Whitehorse on July 8, 2019.
Federal budget includes changes to Northern Residents Deduction, minimum wage, green energy funds

The massive budget included some rare references to the territory.

Doug Bell photographed in Whitehorse in 2008, for an article about his role as Yukon Commissioner in the early 1980’s. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon remembers former commissioner Doug Bell

Bell passed away in Whitehorse on Sunday, at the age of 94.

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Whitehorse International Airport in Whitehorse on May 6, 2020.
NAV CANADA suspends review for Whitehorse airport traffic control

NAV CANADA announced on April 15 that it is no longer considering… Continue reading

A bulldozer levels piles of garbage at the Whitehorse landfill in January 2012. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Rural dump closures and tipping fees raise concern from small communities

The government has said the measures are a cost-cutting necessity

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: Hands of Hope, the quilt of poppies

Toilets are important Ed. note: Hands of Hope is a Whitehorse-based non-profit… Continue reading

Most Read