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Youth call for further mental health supports in light of COVID-19

·4 min read

Courtenay Field grew up in an immigrant household where mental health, by her own admission, “was a very taboo subject.”

When the Aurora student realized she needed to seek help, she felt unable to do so because she was a minor and financially reliant on her parents.

As an adult, however, Ms. Field is dedicating her time to empowering youth to take control of their mental health “by giving them the resources to do so.”

“This will be life and death for so many,” says Ms. Field, a member of Future Majority, a non-partisan, non-profit group dedicated to “amplifying the voices of young Canadians so every candidate, politician, and party is an advocate for youth priorities.”

Future Majority launched their latest campaign last week, one dedicated to addressing the mental health crisis, one that has only been exacerbated by the global pandemic.

“COVID has been hard on all of us,” says Ms. Field, a graduate of Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School. “It is a time where I myself have faced unforeseen challenges within my career and I was unable to get the regular support I would from my friends and family. Now more than ever, Canadians – particularly young Canadians like myself – are experiencing increased mental health challenges and looking for support. Across Canada, Future Majority volunteers have been meeting with representatives from major parties over the last few weeks to share our stories and concerns about mental health. We have been blown away by the response from the Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green representatives in ridings across the country who have agreed to our cross-partisan letter and take a stand on the importance of Mental Health.”

This is an initiative promoted not only by Future Majority, but a number of local organizations including Black Youth York Region, York Pride, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (York Region), Communities for Public Education, Dynamic Dance Company, Bully Free York Region, Windfall Ecology Centre, and Phoenix Leadership.

“Canadians are facing a mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Julia Mellary, a local Future Majority volunteer. “The word ‘uncertainty’ continues to pop up as a common theme throughout the last year, whether it be relating to the reopening of schools, return to in-person work/volunteer opportunities, or visiting family. Mental health is an issue that touches all of us, thus a core element of the solution is making mental health a priority issue for every politician. Because young people are the largest voting bloc and we’ve voted in record numbers in the past two Federal elections, we have the power to make mental health an issue that every politician and party in Newmarket-Aurora prioritizes.”

Ms. Mellary told those in attendance at last week’s launch that she became passionate about mental health when she recognized just how prevalent both anxiety and depression was among her peers while in high school at Newmarket’s Sacred Heart. There, she took action joining forces with a teacher to form a mental health council at school dedicated not only to providing healthy coping mechanisms to her fellow students but connecting them with local resources as well.

“It was abundantly clear once I graduated that the mental health crisis we’re experiencing at this time transcends what school mental health clubs are able to provide struggling educators and students,” she said. “Resources to professional mental health clubs are necessary for all Canadians and this does require the support of all parties. Mental health effects every Canadian and this is an issue that requires our attention more than ever in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The pandemic, they add, has given Canadians a prime opportunity to connect, with social media channels providing a “versatile tool” to organize. The crisis has also made it clear that mental health supports are “needed and necessary” for “all Canadians in order to lead stable and prosperous lives.” “The great thing about what Future Majority is [doing is] implementing a long-term strategy for the campaign,” adds Courtenay. “There are multiple party goals that actually take it beyond just one day. It is about creating something that is sustainable, which is really important. In the short term, we are advocating for a $2,000 mental health spending account, which would be for the next 12 months and provide essential supports that are needed right now. We’re asking for a Royal Commission on a universal mental health program which would investigate the negative mental health outcomes caused by systemic racism and poverty and how to address it. In the long-term, we’re asking for universal mental health care for all Canadians where [you can use] your Health Card and not just your credit card to get those mental health supports that people need.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

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