Youth Action Committee Explores Race in The Child and Youth Mental Health System

Through our joint provincial Youth Action Committee (YAC) with Children’s Mental Health Ontario we support young people in identifying major issues youth experiencing mental illness are currently facing in Ontario. The YAC’s role is to engage with youth across the province and work together to report on its findings and generate youth-led policy recommendations to stakeholders who are responsible for change.

In 2020, the Youth Action Committee met for a new policy cycle. With a diverse committee of youth from all across Ontario, we met for the first time in March. This was a time to get to know one another, to build connections, and to brainstorm and select our project topic that we would work towards for the next 2 years. After many conversations with our committee, it was clear that we needed to work towards Equity in the Child and Youth Mental Health System as our topic, as this has been a long standing issue many youth face in Ontario. 

Shortly after our meeting, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, and we shifted from meeting in person to hosting meetings virtually. We knew that equity was a broad topic and felt that narrowing it would help to have a more focused policy recommendations. For our Youth Action Committee, it was important to focus on Race in the Mental Health System as youth identified that they are experiencing racial disparities within the mental health system in Ontario and that Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth face barriers to accessing quality care due to a multitude of reasons that the YAC will be exploring over the next year.

The YAC will be releasing a survey this week which will be targeted at the experiences of racialized youth within the child and youth mental health system. Our hope with this project is to amplify the voices of racialized youth in Ontario, and we hope that you will continue to support the work our Youth Action Committee does as we move forward. 

The YAC wanted you to hear directly from them, why they choose this topic:


Racialized youth face unique challenges when dealing with mental health issues and accessing services. As a diverse YAC with many POC members, we thought race within the mental health system was a topic not even given attention to and that needed a spotlight – Madison, 16

Being racialized has always impacted the way I received services. I believe that human services and specifically mental health services shouldn’t be a “one size fits all”. I understand from my lived experience what accommodations may need to be in place to create a more inclusive system that achieves equitable outcomes for all youth across OntarioNourin, 24

Advocating for health equity in the mental health system is very personal to me. I’ve understood from a first-hand perspective how individuals from a low-socioeconomic status (SES) often correlate with poorer overall health. The experiences of racialized and marginalized youth in the Ontario Child and Youth mental healthcare system (CYMH) are not adequately documented. Few studies have examined the cross-section between race and the CYMH delivery for youth in Ontario. If our goal is to create an equitable mental health system, policy-decisions must reflect and incorporate the voices and experiences of racialized and marginalized youth. The YAC has the upmost privilege of amplifying youth voices from equity-seeking groups across Ontario and advocating for an equitable child and youth mental health system – Lewis, 21

I believe this topic is important as racialized youth are oftentimes not provided with proper mental health services for their needs. Many services in the westernized world are geared towards those of Caucasian descent and so it can be much more difficult for racialized youth to find sufficient servicesGregory, 17

It is well documented that there are racial disparities within the mental health system, including the child and youth mental health system. Black, Indigenous and racialized youth face barriers to accessing quality care due to a multitude of reasons including systemic racism and a lack of culturally competent services. As a result of a lack of appropriate access to care, Black, Indigenous and racialized youth often experience poorer mental health outcomes. We recognize that there is a lot of work that needs to be done and we hope that this project can help contribute to creating positive change – Hodan, 23

Personally, as a black woman, who has experienced the mental health system in Ontario I have seen first hand how mental health care disparities can negatively impact the outcome of the patient. Another issue I noticed within the black community is that BIPOC who may be facing mental health issues are less likely to access the system due to fear of receiving differential treatment, community barriers, or lack of cultural competency from providers. After joining the YAC, who had a more diverse team this year, and after expressing my concerns with the system, it became more evident that some of these barriers were also a constant issue with other minority groups when accessing the mental health system and that Ontario’s system is far from equitable. It became important to me that the YAC used its platform to better understand these barriers, and eventually address them through our policy work. Improving access and the quality of care, creating a more diverse mental health workforce, educating providers on cultural awareness are just some of the important changes that need to occur to eliminate the unfair differences within the system. My hope for the YAC is that we are able to deliver recommendations and effective strategies that can be used as a stepping-stone to commence these changes that will provide a more equitable system for our youthNneoma, 21

It is important for the YAC to explore Race within the mental health system because there is a lack of support for these youth. The youth who need the most support are being pushed to the side because their barriers are hard to work around or they are “hard to work with.” There are challenges everyday for racialized youth and accessing mental health services should not be one, we can’t start the change without hearing from the ones who have lived this experience. Our committee is very passionate because we are a diverse group that want to see a change for all different personal reasonsEric, 17

To learn more about our 2020 Youth Action Committee Members, click here! 

Thank you to our 2020 Youth Action Committee for your thoughtful insight, for amplifying the voices of racialized youth, and for being advocates not only in your communities but for the province of Ontario. 

If you have any questions please contact Fizza Abbas, Network Coordinator at fizza@thenewmentality.ca 


Meet the 2020 Youth Action Committee!

Hodan Mohamud, Co-Chair
23, Mississauga

Hodan (she/her) is passionate about mental health advocacy, youth engagement, and health equity. She envisions a mental health system where youth across Ontario have equitable access to mental health services that meet their diverse needs. Hodan hopes to use her position on the committee to help elevate the voices of youth across Ontario.
 
Lewis Han, Co-Chair
21, Ottawa
 
Hi, my name is Lewis.  I’m 21 years old from Ottawa, Ontario. I’m a 2nd year medical student at the University of Ottawa medical school with a passion for advocating for health equity and mental health awareness. My experiences with mental health from a low-income background has shaped my advocacy initiatives. I believe youth need to have a say in policy decisions to create meaningful changes within the Child and Youth mental health system of Ontario. I am privileged to work with the YAC to share my experiences and work towards amplifying the voices of youth across Ontario. 
 
 
Nourin Ali
24, Timmins 
 
My name is Nourin, I have lived in Timmins, ON during the past year. I have a BA in Political Science and Economics from Memorial University of Newfoundland. One of the issues that matters to me most is equity and inclusion. It’s centric to both my career and advocacy. My hope is to weave cultural sensitivity into the provincial mental health delivery standards and to make BIPOC youth voices heard on issues such as social isolation, acculturation, and racism. I also hope to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness that stems from cultural influences. Being part of the YAC gives me the opportunity to be surrounded by like minded youth who are committed to bringing change. It also gives me access to guidance and support from experienced adult allies. 
 
Eric Hendrick
18, St. Thomas 
 
Hi my name is Eric!! My pronouns are He/Him/His. I am 17 years old and I have been on youth engagement committees for the past 4 years! I believe in using my outgoing and fearless personality to be a voice for youth across the board, I realized that some youth don’t have the resources or the contacts to voice their concerns and I want to be able to build my personal tool belt to help others build their own! In September I start my first year of the Child and Youth Care program and I have never been more excited. I can’t wait to work closely with youth to start a change. 

Victoria Corbett
22, Sault Ste. Marie  

Heyo! My name is Vic, I am a 22 year old mental health advocate from Sault Ste Marie. I’ve been apart of The New Mentality since I was 15 when I started a youth engagement group in my hometown, and this is my 3rd year on the YAC! I am most passionate about mental health services in Northern Ontario, LGBTQ+ & transitional-aged youth, although overall I am passionate about all youth accessing the services that suit them, when they need them. Outside of the YAC, I am a Child & Youth Worker who is also in school to become a 9-1-1 Dispatcher. When I’m not at work you can find me snuggling with my cat Finnigan, making some tie-dye, or finding the perfect spot to watch the sunset! While this is my final year on the YAC, I’m sure you’ll see my face changing this world long after our cycle wraps up! 

Gregory Doucet 
17, Vaughan

My name is Gregory and I am 17 years old.  I live in Vaughan, Ontario and I am a strong advocate for children and their well-being.  In particular, I focus on those who are often underrepresented in society, such as those with visible or invisible disabilities, and multicultural individuals.  I am a part of the Youth Action Committee as I want to give a voice to those who currently aren’t able to adovate for change. Those who struggle with health related issues, whether they are solely related to mental health, or are intertwined with their physical health, everyone deserves the best support possible. I firmly believe that regardless of the perceived competency of a youth, they deserve to have their opinion heard and accounted for when making decisions that may impact them.

Nneoma Achioso
21, London 

Hi my name is Nneoma Achioso. I’m 21 years old and currently reside in London, Ontario finishing up my undergrad degree at Western University. It has only been a few years since I discovered that I have a strong passion for mental health. I realized mental health is something I want to not only learn more about, but I also want to contribute to breaking down the walls of stigma surrounding it. In recent years, I have also gained some lived experience with witnessing how the various aspects of the mental health system work, and sometimes not always for the best interest of the patient, specifically those from BIPOC community. As a black woman, I can understand how intersecting identities can disproportionately impact access to services and result in differential treatment by healthcare providers.

Being a part of the Youth Action Committee provides me with the opportunity to be a voice for my fellow BIPOC, while tackling the complex issues within our child and youth mental health system. I hope through our policy work we can commence the start to a more equitable and accessible mental health system for all youth.

Victoria Kaulback 
25, Hamilton

Victoria is a 25-year-old mental health advocate from Hamilton, Ontario. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Social Work degree from Lakehead University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Queen’s University, and she plans to pursue a Master of Social Work degree in the near future. Victoria has lived experience navigating the complex mental health system in Ontario. She has experienced several gaps in services and has fallen through the cracks many times. Her experiences have led her to become the passionate activist she is today.

Victoria is currently working as a Youth Trustee, supporting marginalized youth from a range of backgrounds with social assistance and other social services. She sees firsthand how contextual and socioeconomic factors such as poverty, geographical location, and home environment, can affect a young person’s health and mental health.

As Victoria enters her second and final year on the YAC, she is eager to learn more about the unique experiences facing youth across Ontario through youth engagement initiatives. Victoria is passionate about advocating for policy change and creating a more equitable mental health system.

Madison Suh
16, Richmond Hill

Madison is a passionate advocate for mental health advocating with her New Mentality group based in Toronto and on the provincial Youth Action Committee. She has a fierce voice and is a strong advocate for more inclusive mental health services for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.    


We are incredibly lucky to have such bright and enthusiastic leaders from across Ontario. Our 2020 Youth Action Committee is eager and excited to share with you all in the next coming weeks the work we’ve been up to! To learn more about the Youth Action Committee click here

If you have any questions please contact Fizza Abbas, Network Coordinator at fizza@thenewmentality.ca 


The impact of the pandemic and school closures on youth: Youth perspectives

The start of a new school year can normally bring on a mix of different emotions – excitement, joy, and happiness, but also nervousness, discomfort, and stress. The pandemic drastically changed how the school year ended in the spring, and the return to school has been uncertain for the most part over the summer months. As we enter the last few days of summer before school starts, we invited youth to share their thoughts on going back to school during this time.

Safety

Despite safety measures such as physical distancing and masking, students are still worried about the risk of spread between students and teachers, and to their family members. In addition to becoming ill, those who catch COVID-19 may pass it on to others, must self-isolate, and would miss out on school/work. The consequences are wide-ranging.

“Something that is definitely on my mind is the safety of everyone returning, especially older teachers. I hope that teachers and administrators are given the most support possible because they see hundreds of students daily.”

Transition to Online Learning

Although schools have turned to online learning to allow students to continue learning at home, youth are worried about the effectiveness of online learning. Online learning doesn’t work for everyone, and may not be appropriate for all subjects. This can be challenging in different ways for all students, and even more so for those who need to achieve certain grades in order to apply for universities and colleges.

“I’m most worried about the transition to an online format, and how it might impact my ability to learn or access resources in my community.”

Accessibility to Online Supports and Resources

Although students have different preferences for in-person vs. online learning, many youth say it is important for schools and community child and youth centres to have online supports and resources. In order for youth to know about the resources available to them, schools and community child and youth centres need to promote their resources and provide information about the types of supports available, how to access them, and if and how they have been modified.

Accessibility to online supports and resources is equally important to the availability of these resources. For those who do not have access to digital devices or Internet connection at home, youth may have to rely on schools to provide laptops and Wi-Fi at school or in other public areas. If online supports cannot be made available or accessible to all students, youth suggest that community child and youth centres could go to schools to reach more students.

“Providing online support is the best way to help those who might not be able to or be hesitant to reach out in person.”

Socialization with Peers

For a lot of students, extracurricular groups are a way to meet new friends, socialize with peers, and destress from busy times during the school year. While many of them can “meet” online, it feels less intimate than in-person gatherings. For some, they may not feel safe meeting with their groups online at home.

“I get really overwhelmed during busy times of the school year and dread going to class because of a fear of getting even more behind, so most of the time, the only reason I can get out of bed and drag myself to school is because I’m looking forward to a club I have during lunch or after school.”

Tips and Advice from Youth for Youth

As a new school year approaches, we asked youth what advice they would give themselves and their peers to overcome the challenges of a new school year during a pandemic. During this stressful and uncertain time, it is important to remember to check in and take care of yourself, and reach out to friends and other support networks if you need.

“Stay safe and take care of yourself.”

There are many different and polarizing opinions about COVID-19 and this can feel overwhelming. It is important to take a pause and think about what is best for you but also safe for you and those around you. If staying active helps you destress, go outside for a walk while practicing safety measures like physical distancing and masking.

“It’s okay to take a break!”

With more time at home, it can feel like we need to be doing as much as possible, trying as many new things as possible. But you don’t always have to be productive – it is just as important to rest and take a break.

“Share how you feel with other people because not talking about it can sometimes make it worse.”

Staying connected with friends or your other support networks can make it easier to deal with the challenges and uncertainties during this time. While it may feel limiting or intimidating to meet in person, there are many ways to stay connected using group call platforms and online games. To switch it up, you can create “care packages” with notes, games, small gifts, or other things that your friend likes, and do a gift exchange while practicing physical distancing.

Thank you to our youth for sharing their thoughts, tips, and advice on returning back to school. We wish you all a safe and healthy school year ahead! 

If you have any questions please contact Fizza Abbas, Network Coordinator at fizza@thenewmentality.ca 


Let’s Talk: Men’s Mental Health

Men’s mental health, whoosh okay let’s get real for a minute here. Mental health as a whole has been on a huge journey to be taken seriously, and to break through the stigma. Although we have come a long way we still have a long way to go. In regards to men’s mental health it’s even more of a journey. This group has been swept under the rug. However, I do know that the world has been run and dominated by the ideations of men, which I also agree needs to have a huge change. Mental health is the one place where they lack substance and space, but probably where they need it most.

Men and boys have grown up being instilled with the notions that men shouldn’t/don’t show their emotions. That they need to be cold and tough like stone. That crying would make them less of a man. Not to mention the common taboo of mental health throughout different cultures. These scripts are so toxic, and dangerous. These bottled up, unprocessed emotions then form into mental health issues, mental illness, and constant struggles with processing emotion throughout their lives. These scripts then get passed down to new generations. Because after hearing all of that what man wants to talk about their feelings, or the trauma that they have experienced in their life? Talking about these topics needs to be normalized with men, because we have lost so many young men to substance abuse, self harm, and to suicide. It needs to stop. Change needs to happen. They are hurting and we have to do something.

Personally speaking, it took me a long time to talk about my own mental health issues. Even while I was an advocate, I have invalidated my issues time and time again. I felt I needed to be that rock for other people, but I never truly realized that I had so much that I needed to be honest about. When I did start sharing my story to others it was almost like I wasn’t present in what I was talking about. Because although I shared my struggles I never actually worked through them. I still had that sense that I was okay, and that these things happen so I can get over it. But that isn’t true. It’s exhausting to have to bottle up your feelings. It’s also exhausting and scary to be open and vulnerable when seeking support, but it’s so worth it. 

But our resources still aren’t good enough yet. It’s nearly impossible to find mental health support specific to male needs, especially in small towns. The earlier we start these conversations the better. But that’s not enough, we need to offer space that is equipped to the needs of male individuals and that offers a healthy environment for men to interact with one another that encourages growth and support. Our men need to be lifted up, and given a shoulder to cry on when they need it. Things need to be flipped upside down and rearranged for sure. 

As for right now, I want to celebrate the amazing, resilient, strong, brave, honest male-identifying agents of change out there. You are incredible, you are loved and you are so important in this fight. Thank you so much for being a part of this journey and allowing men to have a voice and to feel emotions freely. Stay wild kings.

Thank you to Zibby our Youth Media Ambassador for sharing his thoughts on the importance of men’s mental health!

If you are interested in becoming a Youth Media Ambassador for the New Mentality, please email fizza@thenewmentality.ca 


Becoming a New Mentality Alumni

What happens next? To all the work you’ve put in, to the peers you’ve made, to the support you had. I’ve thought about what happens to all of it when the road I’ve been walking on finally comes to an end. Crossing that bridge into becoming an alumni within your new mentality groups and seeing everything else left behind on the other side. Reaching back for one more meeting, one more DTL, one more project. 

It almost seems we forget to have a conversation about what that next step is going to look like. Or we don’t think it’s going to come as quickly as it does. Experiencing two transitions at once; becoming an New Mentality alumni, all while entering a new life path. Whether that be entering post secondary, working full time, or moving away for any handful of reasons. Whatever the case may be, and I know I can’t speak for everyone but there’s this emptiness. There’s this need. Because if we look at good ol’Maslow, we need a sense of love, belonging and my group gave me that. I had a purpose, I was making a difference. I had built a family of sorts for myself. 

I’m going to talk more about what my experience with this looked like. What I was feeling and things I did to ease that transition. Being a part of the amazing New Horizons New Mentality group at Huron Perth Centre helped me so much during my time as a high school student. I learned so much about how to help others, and about myself along the way. Having to transition out and leave was something I never really thought I would have to do. Because how do you leave something so personal and so entwined with your own being? 

During my transition into post secondary I did in fact look into other mental health groups within the college. To my surprise there was something, a group called Let’s Face It. It was everything I was looking for but I felt guilty. I already had a group, and these amazing friends. How would I be able to join something else? I’m going to tell you it wasn’t easy and it’s not going to be easy. But, it was one of the best choices I’ve made. Granted I didn’t join right away it took me about a month to really sort through these feelings, where at first I wasn’t going to join at all. Yes, it felt like I was making this whole big betrayal, but I have come to realize that all these advocacy groups are ultimately on the same side. We’re all here as agents of change. Looking to make a difference, to bridge the gaps within the many systems we come in contact with.

When leaving our New Mentality groups we have to hold faith in our successors. Some advice I want to give future alumnus and those who are now, taking that step, although we have to pass on our torches we still continue to take our fire with us. Use it, get involved in new groups even. You still have so much light to give. 

To the adult allies, have those conversations. It’s going to be hard for both of you, but it’s important to identify the needs of the youth who are transitioning. What do they need? How can they stay connected? Your youth are leaving a big part of themselves. Something they used to socialize themselves, a support system, an outlet. Help them see that they still have so much purpose. Connect with those who have been alumni for a couple years even, and acknowledge their feelings. Identify what could have helped that process and what could be done differently now. Growing is scary and uncomfortable, but we are all resilient past, present and future.

 

Thank you to Zibby our Youth Media Ambassador for sharing his journey of becoming a New Mentality alumni!

If you are interested in becoming a Youth Media Ambassador for the New Mentality, please email fizza@thenewmentality.ca 


Meet Our Media Ambassador Zibby!

Hey y’all! You may have seen me on The New Mentality’s website under their blog section. Some of you may recognize me and some of you might have been like who is this??? Well … I’m Zibby! I’m going to tell y’all a little bit about me and what I’m doing here. For starters, some things about me are that I like to read, I like to cook, I love poetry and music, I love crazy adventures, and busting a gut laughing. I definitely laugh at myself too much, and just think I am the funniest person. I am definitely going to be that person that grows old and has a thousand cats. I aspire to be like Beyoncé and just be completely incredible no matter what. But, on top of all of this I love being an advocate for mental health.

My journey started as a youth advocate for New Horizons, which is the Huron Perth Centre’s New Mentality group. Let me tell you, this all happened on accident but I feel like it was meant to be. So a few of my friends decided to go to student services in our high school for a completely different reason. But they happened to be in the right place at the right time, they were recruited into this group and then later wrangled the rest of the friend group in as well. Granted at the beginning I didn’t have a full understanding of what mental health was and I didn’t necessarily take everything seriously. And with that is how I was introduced to The New Mentality and to the incredible experience of Disable the Label. Which really made me get my act together. From grade 10 to graduation the others and I took part in a lot of advocating for mental health, through presentations on stress, doing different activities in our high school, and learning more from other groups along the way. We also took part in our own fundraiser and then did our own mini Disable the Label in our community. 

After graduation as you may have read in my first blog I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew that I wanted to continue advocating because it was something that I loved and also was at war with the fact that I had my own little family in this group, and felt that if I did join another group that I would be kind of betraying my original group. However, that definitely wasn’t the case because we are all in this together (que High School Musical pun) as advocates and we all have the same goal. So I joined Let’s Face It at Lambton College.

I was able to do incredible things by helping to provide a safe space for students, teaching them about stress and coping skills, and engaging them in activities throughout the school year. I also had the privilege to go into high schools, to share my story and to help teach students about mental health and finding support. It was important for me to show that youth voice matters too, that their experiences and struggles are valid, and to show they deserve to receive help. 

A little more about me is I am a third year Child and Youth Care student at Lambton College, and I already have a culinary degree. It is my passion and goal to bring change into the mental health field and to do more with the education I have when I graduate, and to make sure everyone has the ability to access the support they need in order to live the best life they can, and to be their most authentic selves.

As an alumni of The New Mentality I wanted to stay connected and to participate in as many Disable the Label conferences as I could. So I was very fortunate to be able to participate in Disable the Label 2020. As well as, be given the opportunity to become one of the social media ambassadors for The New Mentality. Now I haven’t done much blogging in my life before this but already it is something I enjoy very much. I love offering my perspective and talking about different things in life. So that’s a bit about me! Stay tuned for some more blogs in the near future! Stay wild y’all.

 

Thank you to Zibby our Youth Media Ambassador for sharing with us a little bit about himself! 

If you are interested in becoming a Youth Media Ambassador for the New Mentality, please email fizza@thenewmentality.ca 


Youth Create Resources on The Transitions In and Out of High School

We all can remember a moment or a time when we were transitioning from middle school to high school, or transitioning out of high school and had no idea what to expect. What comes next? How do I navigate this new space? These questions racing through our minds.

As students you may be getting ready to go back to school this fall, and you might have the same questions as I once did. Well, our fantastic New Mentality youth at Lumenus Community Services have you covered! Our youth have created two resources to help students with the transition to high school, and the transition out of high school. 

After working two years on this project, youth have created these resources to share with their peers what they wish they knew before going through these challenging transitions themselves. These resources are filled with advice, tips, and interviews from youth who have recently gone through these transitions themselves! 

A huge congratulations to the young folks who worked very hard on this project. We are so incredibly proud to see resources created by youth for youth! 

Click here to read – The Transition to High School

Click here to read – The Transition out of High School 

Follow @lumenuscs to see what our youth will be up to next! 

Fizza Abbas, Network Coordinator

Disable the Label 2020 Alumni Experience!

Disable The Label (DTL), that title brings such fond memories, and Geneva park being home away from home. Filled with laughter, fun, connections, conversations, growth, learning, and of course lots of chocolate milk. DTL has held many individuals from many walks of life. 

However this year we weren’t able to do that. We weren’t able to decorate our name tags, sit in our big community circle, or sit by the beautiful lake to soothe our souls. Gathering in the dinning hall to connect even further, and getting wild while lining up for chocolate milk. (I know I mentioned chocy milk before but it really is that big of a deal). 

There was an unexpected turn of events this year due to COVID-19, and one of my first thoughts was “what is DTL going to look like this year?”. Not knowing what to expect or even if it would happen at all, I just knew this year was going to be different. And although with these unforeseen circumstances DTL was a go! Even if that meant it was going to be through our computer screens.

In a sense, I am sorry for those whose this is their first DTL, because they didn’t get to experience all of its wonders in its entirety. But DTL goes way deeper than that. It is something that isn’t physical, it’s magic and energy of all of our amazing agents of change. 

As I know, I can’t speak for everyone but this DTL still felt like any other. We shared deep, meaningful conversations. We explored different areas of who we are. There was still so much vulnerability, bravery and with some tears being shed along the way. The DTL homies unified like we always do to address important matters and injustices within our society, and did important work in regards to anti-black racism. We spoke our truths with words or art, and allowed ourselves to grow. We still got to experience the TALENT of this group. DTL is its own community, I was still able to feel that and to see that. Along with being provided the space to build connections that are so precious and forever. All of this being thanks to the hard work of the hosting team, but also to the participants. 

So, of course I will always say that an original DTL at Geneva park (with lots of chocolate milk) hands down takes the cake. But I’d be blind to not acknowledge that this year still held that same atmosphere even amongst zoom calls. The new mentality/DTL is family, and of course my home away from home.

 

Thank you to Zibby our Youth Media Ambassador for sharing his Disable the Label 2020 experience as an alumni of our Network!

If you are interested in becoming a Youth Media Ambassador for the New Mentality, please email fizza@thenewmentality.ca 


New Mentality youth talk about what Pride means to them!

June is Pride Month! This month is a time dedicated to celebrating and supporting the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Whether you identify as LGBTQ or are an ally, everyone can join in the celebration of love. We spoke to two of our New Mentality youth, Rachel and Diya about what Pride means to them! 

Why is Pride Month important to you?

Rachel:

I remember my first Pride. I was still in the early stages of coming out to myself, let along to other people when I had the opportunity to walk in the Parade with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). I was so nervous about going to Pride, and what people would think of me, but after a while, I convinced myself to go. When I got there, we had to wait for hours to walk, and it was a sweltering hot day. Eventually, we were allowed to start, and it was the most incredible feeling. I saw thousands of people cheering, waving flags that I identified with, and celebrating themselves and each other. By the time the Parade ended, I was filled with hope, I felt like I wasn’t alone. After I got home, I learned that the Parade had been held up by a Black Lives Matter protest. As I read and learnt about the reasons they were protesting at the Pride Parade, the more I respected and stood by them. 

            By this point, you might be wondering why I’m answering the question with this story. But it’s because it highlights what Pride month means to me. Pride month is a time where I can finally embrace the parts of myself that I was told were wrong, and it creates a space where I can be my most genuine self without having to worry about what other people think. Really, it’s a time where we can be visible and celebrate what we’ve all been through to get here today and collectively express and process all the emotions that come with that. Pride month creates a space to learn about and remember the history of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and, like Black Lives Matter, sought to do, work towards a brighter and safer future for everyone. 

Diya:

  Every day of the year, I experience my identity and I have to live with all the different parts of me. I know myself, and I can tell myself I’m valid over and over again, but the people around me will tiptoe around parts of my identity they don’t accept. Pride Month, however, has been the gateway into openly sharing my Pride, and expressing my identity outwardly, without hiding certain pieces to avoid judgment. Pride Month is the month I always feel the most inspired, heard, valid, and beautiful because it is the month where I see other people expressing their sexuality and themselves so vibrantly. It makes me feel as if I’m not alone, and makes me hopeful for the future I can have where I may be as amazing as all my fellow community members. All these people hold a space to freely talk about their struggles as a 2SLGBTQ+ member, and Pride Month connects me to people who are undergoing the same hardships and confusion I am with my own identity. It lets me be unapologetically me, and feel supported through that process. As a bonus, Pride Month gives me an opportunity to look bomb as hell without judgment or a second thought, and that’s an opportunity I will never refuse.

What activities have you participated in this month for Pride, and how has that supported your overall mental well being?

Rachel: 

Before Covid-19 hit here, I lived in a space where I had an incredible and supportive 2SLGBTQ+ community around me. But with the pandemic, I had to move away to stay with family, and that sense community is a lot harder to find here. It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking though, and with Pride Month, I’ve been trying to find ways to connect with people virtually. Lately, I’ve been having zoom calls to hang out with other 2SLGBTQ+ youth and have been watching/ reading more 2SLGBTQ+ content online (if you haven’t seen it yet She-Ra is AMAZING!). It definitely doesn’t replace what I used to have in person, but it’s helped me feel less isolated and has given me a small way to celebrate Pride month. 

            This month I’ve also been engaging in more of the politics of Pride. The history of the 2SLGBTQ+ community is one filled with both struggle and radical compassion. So for me, part of the way I’m participating in Pride this year is learning more about our history and about the BIPOC 2SLGBTQ+ people who have been the leaders of this movement and paved the way for the rights I have today. 

Diya:

The Pride Parade is always the event I look the most forward to since it is the most inspiring and freeing to participate in, however, this year since I can’t celebrate at the Pride Parade, I created a way for me to still fully reap the wellness benefits of Pride. I’ve decided to do a small project every week related to Pride to express my identity and acknowledge myself as a part of my wellness, and these small projects range greatly. One of the small things I decided to do was to come out to a member of my family, while a more lighthearted one was to decorate my room in Pride related items. As well, I have been finding more 2SLGBTQ+ role models online and hearing their experience over a variety of platforms. Since I am not able to leave my house during June because of COVID-19, I have been partaking in online ventures much more, and have found a lot of ways to still experience Pride Month. I have been doing a lot of online research for myself about the history in Canada and India (where I immigrated from) of 2SLGBTQ+ advocates and educating myself on how and to what extent the community has been accepted or denied rights in the past.  

I’ve also stayed connected to my friends in the community and had some really great conversations that led me to a very liberating decision. I always kept long hair because people around me told me it made me more “feminine” and was even told with short hair when I was 6 years old that I wouldn’t be allowed in the washroom because I looked like a boy. This technically isn’t tied to my sexuality, but it is tied to my expression of it, and after 17 years of being afraid of not pleasing others and being “too masculine,” finally chopped off my hair and am now strutting around with a very very short bob! This small step might not mean a lot to anyone else, but I feel more myself than I have in a long time, and this was part of my growth this Pride Month 🙂

What mental health supports have helped you as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community?

Rachel: 

To be honest, there haven’t been many formal supports that have helped support me in my journey so far. I grew up in rather conservative religious school systems, where it wasn’t safe for youth to be out. It was because of these schools that I didn’t realize I might be queer until a few years ago when I was in my late teens/ early twenties. When I went looking for support groups, I realize that most of the resources for our community were targeted towards youth under 18, or adults over 40, not transition-age youth like myself. So I never really had 2SLGBTQ+ friendly mental health supports like GSA’s or peer support groups as I was learning about myself. 

            Instead, I turned to a lot of informal spaces for support. I spent more hours than I can count online reading articles, forums, and watching videos. Finding these online spaces helped me process things and get to know the community and myself in a more distant way. Once I started to get more comfortable with the fact that I was queer, I began to turn to my friends for support and attended the odd event that my University’s Pride group put on. 

Since then, I’ve found support in other’s visibility. When I started a work placement at the end of my degree, I realized that one of the staff members used non-binary pronouns. As soon as I saw this, and heard my supervisor ask for my pronouns, I knew that it was a safe place to use they/them and she/her pronouns. Those small acts of someone’s visibility and that simple question made me feel safe and supported enough to bring my genuine self into my work. Words can’t describe how incredible that felt. 

Diya: 

In my Scarborough school, being anything other than a cisgender, straight person automatically labels you as a target for slander, awful remarks, or even just general judgement. Most people, fortunately, aren’t openly homophobic but in my class in particular, there have been books stolen from the library and ripped up just because it displayed two boys kissing on the cover. This sort of demeanour as well as the unspoken dislike for the community has led me to not access any resources from my school, and most of the ways I’ve been supported have been from the interwebs. Watching informative videos online has been the only way for me to get mental health support related to the 2SLBGTQ+ community. However, there has been one place that has actually considerably supported me throughout the years, and that is the annual Disable the Label Camp by The New Mentality! That is the first place where I experienced queer representation, and also the first space where conversations around struggles and mental health support for our community were held in front of me.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Rachel:

For me, Covid-19 has highlighted how beautiful, resilient and compassionate the 2SLGBTQ+ community is. Over the past few months, I’ve seen my community set up phone calls to keep people of all ages connected, create card-writing campaigns to spread cheer, organize anonymous care-package drop-offs, and open up spaces to stay connected online. I’m amazed at how the community has stepped up to support one another in innovative and meaningful ways. It’s acts like this that make me so proud to be part of the community and hopeful for our future. 

            I want to finish by saying thank you to those who paved the way for us today, and to those whose visibility in the media, our communities, and our lives have created hope, gave us a place to see our identities reflected, and space to explore who we are. And to those of you who aren’t out or whose identities don’t fit neatly into any label, know that your identities are valid and that your very existence is a beautiful and radical thing. Happy Pride everyone <3 

Diya: 

From personal experience, I know it’s really hard to admit your own identity to yourself sometimes, and as someone who only recently came out (if a year ago counts as recently), I know that it feels like stepping into a world you can’t return from. For someone so far into convincing myself I was straight, even the act of saying ‘I like girls’ to myself was terrifying, because once I said it, I couldn’t keep denying the reality anymore. What I’ve learned is most important, is to do what makes you happy, and if no one accepts you, accept yourself, reach out, and find people who won’t judge you. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know, or feel confused, because just sitting in your confusion and naming it is something you should be immensely proud of. Your journey is your own to take, and even though I am out to my immediate family and friends, it doesn’t mean my journey is over or that I don’t have room to grow or discover my identity more, so cherish your identity, be proud of yourself, and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Happy Pride! 🙂

Thank you to Rachel and Diya for always creating spaces for everyone to feel celebrated. We at the New Mentality want our 2SLGBTQ+ community to know that YOU are seen, heard and loved! 


A Message to Our Community

Hello to our New Mentality Community,

As many of you may know we have been hosting an 8 week virtual Disable the Label leadership program. For those who attended last week, week 5,  you saw that we switched our sessions to be responsive to world events including the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto. We held conversations on anti-racism, specifically anti-black racism. From those conversations, there was a clear need and desire within our network to continue this conversation. 

Since we do mental health advocacy work in Ontario, we must ensure that our practices are embedded in anti-oppressive and anti-racist frameworks. The New Mentality is committed to hosting conversations with our network to talk about racism within the mental health system in Ontario. We will focus on providing recommendations for change in the provincial system, in addition to examining our own network’s practices. We know we need to do better and are committing to a shift in our practice.

We are taking this moment in history to switch up our DTL programming to be responsive to the needs of our network and for those we advocate on behalf of. This work has been a priority to us but we did not think that the virtual platform would support the depth of conversations needed to be had. With the support from our hosting team and network, we have been able to. We are so proud that we are able to do this work. 

With that said, we will be taking a new approach for the remainder of this year’s DTL.

Our approach moving forward: 

On Monday’s we will check-in as a collective group and have a facilitated guided discussion. 

On Wednesdays, we will work in our Affinity Groups (also known as Caucusing) to debrief and have more conversations. Affinity Groups intentionally create spaces to explore, share, heal, and unfold what is happening in a larger group by working in a smaller group of people who share similar experiences. As people of color and white people each have work to do separately (and together), we will create sub-groups based on racial identity called “racial identity affinity groups.” These caucuses provide space for people to do work within their racial/ethnic groups prior to coming together as a larger group to continue our work. In full transparency, we want to note that putting our racialized group into one group isn’t the best solution, as there are actually many sub-groups within that group. But as a team and with the knowledge and training we have as a hosting team this is how we have decided to move forward. 

On Thursdays, we will host a wellness night to hold space to have fun and relax. Together, we are doing important work that takes a lot of emotional energy, we need to make space to take care of ourselves and connect with others. Our intention is to have a space where we can come together as a community to laugh and feel joy together.   

We unequivocally stand by the #BlackLivesMatter movement and have made the commitment and promise to ensure that there is an anti-racism approach permanently engraved into the work of the New Mentality, not just for a couple weeks, not just for a month or a year, but forever.

If you have questions and or feedback please reach out to Mary-Anne Leahy, TNM’s Program Manager, mary-anne@thenewmentality.ca 

With love and gratitude,

Mary-Anne & Fizza