Young voices break through generational silence on mental illness
Story and photo by Yasmin Mayne
Breaking down age-old stereotypes about mental health, Greystone Centennial Middle School (GCMS) hosts this year’s Mental Health Awareness Summit.
The annual event is planned, organized and hosted by students, who are aiming to educate their peers about mental health.
“People should be able to talk about mental health the same way they talk about physical health,” said 14-year-old Teagan Goerz, one of the MCs and organizers for the summit.
“Everyone knows someone, even if they don’t know it, who has a mental illness.”
The summit was held at the Family Connection Centre in Stony Plain from May 2-4, and approximately 150 students from GCMS, Stony Plain Central School, Woodhaven Middle School and Blueberry School attended during the three-day period.
The student organizers of the summit want their peers to go home and start a conversation about mental health with their friends and families.
“A lot of people think it’s an uncomfortable situation to talk about, because they don’t want to offend anybody,” said 14-year-old Aubrey Keehn, another MC and organizer of the summit.
“But in reality, if people don’t talk about it, others won’t feel comfortable sharing that they have a mental illness and can’t get treated for it.”
Keehn knows first-hand about mental illness, because his younger brother has autism.
According to 15-year-old Emily Schram, many youth today don’t talk about mental illness, because their parents don’t.
“If somebody close to you died, you would want to be comforted and have someone support you,” said Schram, in relation to people with mental distress.
“But if you have a mental illness, people ask ‘why, you don’t have a reason.’ ”
Goerz added that sometimes parents think that mental illness is a phase, and that their kids will either grow out of it or get over it.
However, Schram, who has battled with mental illness, wants people to know that mental illness is real and needs treatment.
“Mental illness affects everyone differently, so it’s hard to treat,” she said.
“But it can be treated.”
According to these students, treatment can be as simple as having someone to talk to and support you.
“Some people say they’re here for you, but as soon as your bring up the subject they change the topic,” Goerz said.
Goerz and her friends do believe this summit is having an affect on their peers, even if some of them may act like their too cool for serious discussions about mental health.
“We just need a spark, even if the flame hasn’t caught yet,” she said.
“I think a lot of them were affected, even if they don’t realize it,” added Schram.