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How Can We Help Young People Feel More Comfortable About Discussing Mental Health Issues?

  • 2 MIN READ

Find out how the Robb Nash Project is helping young people learn to recognize, manage, and seek support for mental health issues early on to help avoid acute crises later.

Linda Poulin Director of Educational Programs
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Over the decades, society has made progress in reducing the stigma and taboo surrounding mental health issues. However, with record numbers of youth accessing mental health services in recent years, there is still a lot more that needs to be done to improve wait times and availability of service in all communities across Canada. 

Childhood and adolescence are two of the most crucial periods for a person’s emotional development, and it is often during these tender years when mental health issues first begin to present themselves. If young people can learn how to recognize, manage, and seek support for mental health issues early on, they stand a much greater chance of avoiding acute mental health crises—either as adolescents or later in adult life.  

For over eleven years, Robb Nash and our team have been touring schools, playing concerts, and helping children and young adults open up about mental health issues. When the pandemic hit, we had to put our touring schedule on hiatus, so instead we explored the option of providing the same kind of support online.  

We wanted to make sure that any course we developed was professional-quality and truly interactive. We found that a blend of music, video, and self-reflection are the most effective combination to help learners explore their feelings and mental health in more detail than they may have ever done before. 

By partnering with D2L, we were able to bring our vision to life. Their expert technical consultants helped us to explore the full potential of digital learning and develop an engaging online course for schools, which we call “A Living Curriculum: Stories of Life Through Darkness.” 

Over four modules, learners watch and listen to a series of videos and soundtracks that discuss depression, anxiety, suicide, and self-harm, among other topics. We encourage them to reflect on their own personal feelings using an online interactive journal.  At the end of the course, students are asked to answer a few short questions, which we designed to prompt further reflection and help them understand how they can seek professional support if they need it.  

These modules are delivered in-class by their teaching staff with active support from their in-school mental health leads.  This allows the professionals to offer direct support and to gauge learners’ reaction to the material. The reflective questions and journaling help schools identify students who potentially need help but are finding it difficult to engage with mental health services.  

Already, in the schools where we have run this course, 20% of the learners who attended have self-identified to in-school mental health services. Approximately 60% of these learners were previously unknown to mental health professionals. That’s a strong indication that the course is helping young people feel more comfortable talking about their experiences, seeking support and leaning into the help and hope that they deserve. 

As the world opens up again post-COVID, we’re excited to continue offering the course we developed with D2L Brightspace. The need to support Canada’s youth is more important than ever and we look forward to continued work with schools and learners across the country. We will also continue to build on our offering with D2L as we help more children and young adults learn, explore, and understand mental health issues in a safe, compassionate environment.