Group keeps mental health top of mind for youth

Christina Clarke was having panic attacks after completing her undergraduate degree that were “pretty clearly not normal experiences.”

“I knew that they were wrong and I knew that I should ask somebody about it,” said the 26-year-old PhD student.

Her first instinct was to check the Internet to understand what was going on.

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“I looked it up and I kind of figured, ‘OK, I’m probably having panic attacks.’”

Using the Internet to understand how we feel and to connect with others who have had similar experiences can be common among youth. Because of that phenomenon, mindyourmind, a London-based non-profit mental health organization, has used social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and interactive media through the Internet to connect youth between the ages of 15-24 and provide mental health resources and support for them.

The core of what the program does is to work in a co-creative capacity with youth and young adults, said Maria Luisa Contursi, the program director of mindyourmind.

“What that means is, everything you see online, or on our site, or our social media platforms, any of the campaigns that come out of our program, have all been created with youth at the table.”

The organization began in early 2000. By 2005, the website was launched to reach youth more effectively.

“What we were doing was creating a place where people could interact with the content a little bit, share their stories. People do benefit from hearing the stories, struggles and challenges and the strengths that others have experienced under similar circumstances,” Contursi said.

The organization receives most of its funding from sponsorships, foundation and grant contributions, collaborations with other organizations and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.

Clarke, who has been diagnosed with depression, general anxiety disorder, panic disorder and borderline personality disorder, began blogging for mindyourmind almost two years ago to share her experience with others. She likes mindyourmind because “they’re very diverse and they’re happy to pull everything together and get a lot of different perspectives.”

“It is great they have people giving their own personal stories, which is probably the most comforting when one is feeling low. But they also do have a lot of resources like ‘What do I do if …?’ which is really neat,” she said.

That’s one reason mindyourmind is a recommended resource for Western students experiencing mental-health issues by the campus Health and Wellness Services. During Western’s Orientation Week this year, mindyourmind was on the list of websites where sophs could direct their first-year students toward if they needed help.

Sophie Helpard, the orientation coordinator for Orientation Week, said this emphasis on mental wellness is becoming common, especially at Western.

“It’s important to train our volunteers so they can not only recognize but help connect their first-year students with any mental-health resources that they may need throughout the course of their year,” she said. “And I think it’s also just making those first-year students and sophs also aware that these issues might arise and that these resources do exist because a lot of people might not have come across any of this information before their time at Western.”

The program has won several awards for its work, including the National Media Award in 2008 and the Champion of Mental Health Award in 2008 and 2013.

The organization works in partnership with other organizations in Canada such as the Canadian Mental Health Association to ensure the best resources and information are available to users of their website.

“We work really closely with other groups in collaboration because we understand we can’t be the experts on all topics and all areas – that there are other people who are living and breathing certain issues every day,” Contursi said. “Rather than reinventing the wheel, it’s best that we work together and build off their expertise.”

Contursi said a lot has changed in the past 10 years since mindyourmind went online, but “what hasn’t changed is the need for young people to share their story, and we know there’s a real benefit to that.