Just last month I had the privilege of attending my first ever Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) Conference, as The New Mentality Network Coordinator. Being North America’s largest child and youth mental health conference, it truly lived up to its title! More than 700 delegates from across the infant, child and youth mental health sector attended who were looking for ways to provide the best services for kids and families. The theme of the conference was facing the future together and had incredible speakers from across Ontario sharing how we could work to change the future of infant, child and youth mental health care together.
I had the best job (not to be bias) at the conference getting to work with our Youth Action Committee (YAC) which is our provincial advisory committee who work to reduce stigma and improve mental health services for children and youth across Ontario, through youth-led policy recommendations. The Youth Action Committee’s role at the conference was to speak about the incredible work they’ve done all year and their Crisis to Quality policy paper aimed directly at service providers to help build a child and youth mental health system in Ontario that is one of quality, continuity, and that meets the needs of all children and youth of diverse backgrounds. I truly can’t praise enough how talented and empowering the seven youth from across Ontario on our committee truly are.
On Saturday November 24th, the first day of our conference, The New Mentality Program Manager, Mary-Anne and myself picked up our youth from Union Station, and Billy Bishop Airport. We spent some time reconnecting with one another, as we hadn’t seen each other in a little over a month! The youth then wasted no time and got straight into practicing their speech that they would be presenting in front of 700 individuals the next day, they were all so confident and comfortable, I don’t know if at their age I could stand in front of such a large audience and share my story. Later that evening, we all decided to celebrate the end of the YAC’s year by going out for dinner and showing our appreciation for all the hard work they had done this year!
The big day! Sunday November 25th, after somewhat of a goodnight’s sleep, we all got dressed to impress and headed down for a delicious breakfast, where we met many delegates from across Ontario who were really looking forward to hearing the Youth Action Committee speak. Our Director of Strategic Relations and Communications at CMHO, Jessica Behnke had informed us the day before that we would be meeting with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo at Queen’s Park right after the youth would finish their speech. After lunch, and a few speakers later, it was TIME! Kim Moran our CEO at CMHO, introduced the YAC, and four of our amazing youth went up and gave such an empowering speech, that everyone was on their feet and cheering. Their words really got me thinking, how fortunate I was to work with these invaluable young visionaries and gave me hope that we really could change the system if we all worked together.
After their speech, we all headed to Queen’s Park to have our meeting with the Minister. As someone who had only been to Queen’s Park once before on a school trip, it was such an incredible opportunity to see a little sneak peek of what really happens when inside. After going through security, we were escorted to a small room, where the YAC met with the Minister to share their Crisis to Quality policy paper, and shared their concerns and those of youth across Ontario regarding the current gaps in services when it comes to the mental health system. The youth really appreciated the engaging conversation and are hoping to work with Minister Tibollo to create a more connected and comprehensive mental health and addictions system for all.
After our meeting with the Minister, we headed back to the Marriott hotel where the CMHO conference was taking place, and our youth quickly grabbed their bags, said “see you later” to their friends before heading home. The youth were only there for a little over 24 hours and left such an impact that no one will ever forget.
Leaving the conference, the following day, I left feeling excited and looking forward to what will come next being in this new role. Our youth were incredibly brave, vulnerable and motivated me to do better, and be better. I cannot wait to see what the Youth Action Committee will do next year, as they start a new policy cycle. Stay tuned, because I can guarantee it’ll be extraordinary as per usual.