It's in the mashed potatoes: Promotion and prevention through meaningful youth engagement

Presentation First Author: 
Ian Manion

Youth consistently report significant rates of depressed mood (30-48%), suicidal thoughts (18-30%) and behaviours (7-16%). Approximately 14-25% of Canadian children and youth have a diagnosable mental disorder. Fewer than 25% of those with such disorders receive specialized services. There will never be sufficient resources to meet the actual mental health needs of youth. Furthermore, many youth will never access such supports due to the stigma associated with anything related to mental illness. Youth in need often self-select out of specialized care due to being uncomfortable relating to adult providers and/or traditional services. It is clear that we cannot treat our way out of this problem, especially not in conventional ways. Universal and targeted approaches to wellness promotion and mental illness prevention offer more realistic options to meet the mental health needs of a greater and more diverse number of youth. Meaningful engagement of youth in and of itself has been demonstrated to enhance wellness, decrease symptoms of depression, as well as to decrease risk taking behaviour including the full array of suicidal behaviours.

This presentation will profile the Youth Net / RĂ©seau Ado program that has championed meaningful youth engagement for over 20 years in Canada and beyond. This community-based bilingual, mental health promotion, prevention/early intervention program has been replicated in multiple communities in Canada. The program role models how universal and targeted approaches can be blended within a single program. Various by-youth for-youth initiatives that have evolved from this program will be discussed (e.g., Guys Talk, Girls Talk, YAC, FreeRide, Take-a-Hike, Pens and Paints, Yoga 4 Youth). Qualitative and quantitative evaluation results speak to its impact.

Community-based approaches to promotion and prevention can engage large numbers of youth with positive effects on both depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Youth themselves can become part of the solution and can facilitate early identification of more acute and or severe mental health challenges, initiating pathways to more specialized care if and when necessary. Throughout their involvement, youth can also help to revise existing services to make them more accessible and acceptable to others their age. In so doing, they can have a significant impact practice, research and policy. Sustainable system change cannot occur without such meaningful engagement.

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
10th Oct 2015
Type of presentation: 
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