Anxiety disorders and depression are on the rise and recent studies reveal that young people with mental illness face a high level of social rejection and discrimination that, in some instances, drive them to commit mayhem and even suicide.
Mental illness affects almost 20 per cent of Canadians in the workplace and cost Canada some $51 billion annually.
To combat this serious problem, Across Boundaries – an ethno-racial mental health centre in Toronto’s west end – collaborated with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and other health and community agencies to develop a multimedia web hub – More than a Label – which was launched last week at City Hall.
“This is a website for youth developed by youth and one which we hope will offer tools and resources to educators, community agencies and the young people themselves,” said Across Boundaries executive director, Aseefa Sarang. “Youths have very few resources in the community and with stress related to housing, food and income insecurity, racialized youth are at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental health complaints.”
Sarang said a decision was made at a very early stage of the Public Health Agency of Canada-funded initiative that young people had to be fully involved in the project for it to be meaningful.
“We looked around the table and realized that none of us really fit the definition of a youth which was the 15-24 age category we were looking at,” said Sarang. “So we recruited 25 youths from different communities who took over the reigns with the support of a project manager and two youth coordinators.
“They researched and identified an intervention – Mind Matters from Australia – that they thought was relevant to their needs in the Greater Toronto Area and they took that model, revised it to suit a Canadian context and selected the issues they were dealing with like stress and bullying. I sat in on one of their sessions and I was really impressed with these young people. They were extremely articulate and knowledgeable and they were able to speak to the issues in a really informed manner. I felt really proud.”
CAMH’s schizophrenic program’s deputy director, Dr. Kwame McKenzie, said 70 per cent of mental health problems start during adolescence.
“When the Institute of Medicine in the United States reviewed all mental health promotion and mental illness prevention strategies worldwide, they concluded that they worked well, but there is not sufficient evidence they worked for racialized groups,” McKenzie said in his feature address at the launch. “When you look at studies from public health physicians in British Columbia, they state that some of them are actually harmful to racialized youth and the way to get around that is to take tried and tested promotion and prevention strategies to communities and have those communities culturally adapt them.
“It’s against that backdrop that this project has emerged. This is something that should have been done a long time ago and something Canada needs…This website is still growing, but it’s going to be a hub for many conversations and lots of learning. I think it will improve the mental health of all youth, especially those from racial minority groups…This is a moment in history and if you can change the trajectory of another person or youth with mental health problems, you are changing history.”
McKenzie bemoaned the alarming cost of mental health illness to Canada and presented a business case for investing in the fight against the disease.
“The many challenges that Canada and Toronto will face economically in the future are going to be from countries which want to out-think us,” he said. “The economies of the future that are going to be successful are not those that make things but rather those that produce ideas which come from people like Apple and RIM. These are not ideas that make things, but ideas that make things we didn’t know we needed and in order to have those ideas, you just don’t need IQ. You also need emotional intelligence to be able to work out what people need now and in the future. Mental capital is a resource that we need to get to the next level.”