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Youth Truth mental health wellness check highlights need for community engagement

Last week, the Prince Edward Learning Centre hosted a mental health town hall meeting with agencies in Hastings and Prince Edward counties that are working to provide accessible community mental health resources.

“The point of this meeting was to share resources, make connections, and learn how we could all work together to enact change,” said presenters Hale Ferguson and Sarah Michel, who are the youth engagement coordinators for the local Communities Building Youth Futures. Ferguson is the Youth Community Action Project Facilitator with the Prince Edward Learning Centre in Picton.

Ferguson notes that over the past 10 months, four local organizations came together to carry on the youth initiative begun through the group Greater Than County Youth Collective – Communities Building Youth Futures.

This collaboration was composed of three local youth organizations: Prince Edward Learning Centre, Students Commission of Canada, and The ROC, along with The County Foundation.

“From this initiative we established a Youth Truth series to help understand the barriers youth are experiencing in our community, and actionable changes to ensure our youth feel safe, and supported in their community,” said Ferguson.

“Through the Youth Truth Series, we turned the spotlight to the youth, asking questions about what is important to them:
“What are things that get you through every day?”
“What are challenges that you experience daily?”
“Do you feel like there are adequate services in the county for youth ages 12-30?”
“What barriers do you face in your community?”

Hale Ferguson

Ferguson said that through this series, the team has been able to gain an understanding from youth, about their needs, wants, and immediate changes needed in their community, and to ensure they are seen, heard and valued.

“Our youth want the opportunity to choose a place to call home. They have been exposed to an unpredictable world where some have lost hope, as their homes that they grew up in are being pulled from underneath them.

“Prince Edward County youth desire the ability to find, or keep their meaningful home here. This dream becomes increasingly more challenging to feel within reach as we are all aware the pandemic has significantly impacted the level of general engagement in education and social opportunities.”

Ferguson refers to a report published in 2021 by the Greater Than County Youth Collective, that states 80 per cent of youth surveyed are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious.

“This research clearly indicates that we need to focus on youth mental health and well being,” said Ferguson.

“This research tackled youth issues in Prince Edward County.”

Ferguson noted some of the responses received showed that when it came to youth who identified as 2SLGBTQIA+, there were various statistically significant differences found in the categories of mental wellbeing, engaged in community, and feeling safe survey responses.

“These differences were further highlighted in focus groups. When compared with their heterosexual counterparts in the mental wellness category, queer youth scored lower on life satisfaction; they had less energy, and found it harder to focus and pay attention.

“They also reported having more stomach aches, more depressive feelings, feeling more irritable and bad-tempered, more nervousness, more sleeping pattern troubles, and they felt more sad and lonely.

“However, in the engaged in community category, non-heterosexual youth scored higher on civic participation and being more engaged than heterosexual youth.

The report also looked at BIPOC youth and compared their experiences to that of non-racialized youth. (BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, and People Of Colour.)

Ferguson notes there were a few significant differences found between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.

“Indigenous youth reported that they thought more often of ways to help others become leaders. This is a sign of generativity, which is when someone looks for ways to help the next generation , or leave a beneficial legacy.

“Unfortunately, although Indigenous youth want to help raise leaders, they do not feel as if they have a voice in decision making, scoring significantly lower than non-Indigenous youth.

“They also felt a lot less safe at school. BIPOC youth as a whole scored significantly lower than non-racialized youth when asked if they felt safe while at school, online, and in our community, while there was no significant difference when asked about feeling safe at home.

“This is significant because it underscores that it’s work in the community, rather than in families, that needs to be done to create an inclusive environment for BIPOC youth. This is in contrast to 2SLGBTQIA+ youth who stated they feel more unsafe at home than heterosexual youth, highlighting that work needs to be done within families and with parents to create that feeling of safety for those youth.”

Following the 2021 survey data, Ferguson states that when engaging with the youth, they continue to express hope to see more resources for their guardians and teachers to better assist the adults who are raising and supporting them.

“These resources need to be accessible, as having difficult conversations with youth is a reality required to continue growing as a community. If youth are struggling with self-harm, or issues with addiction, or if youth are transitioning, youth seek the ability to converse with their guardians about these circumstances, and experiences.

“Youth feel as though some adults are not able to handle these conversations. As a community we are raising the youth together, and we need to understand how impactful it would be if they had the resources to handle those situations most effectively, and the intergenerational growth it would aid in.”

Ferguson adds that youth surveyed wish for adults to focus on and support their immediate success rather than placing pressure on the future.

“Many youths are struggling to merely get by each day, and again, what they seek is encouragement to tackle the immediate task at hand, whether that be finding a part-time job or getting the final credits toward their high school diploma.

“As we get older, we lose sight of the importance of immediate positive reinforcement. The expectations we are putting on this generation are with the mindset that they have the same opportunities that existed before the on-going housing crisis, wages vs living inflation, mental health epidemic, multi-year long pandemic, frequent changes with academia, and an overall unpredictability with food security. This is not the case, as they are being met with new challenges that in turn, as a community we need to create new solutions.”

Overall, through this initiative, the hope is that Youth Truth will amplify the youth voices and will continue to help grow the thriving community in Prince Edward County.

“I believe within the next five to 10 years the best way to ensure the youth hopes are met is by continuing to include those voices in large and small decisions being made within the county.”

Filed Under: News from Everywhere Else

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