With a spike in mental health cases reported by Interior Health in Penticton, community members and organizations are coming together to raise awareness about the gaps that need to be filled.
Rylee McKinlay, a Princess Margaret graduate and community advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, spoke, along with her mother, at the It’s Your Choice event held at Skaha Lake Park on Aug. 2.
McKinlay has spoken out about her own battle with anorexia in the past and hopes that events that bring about awareness like this one will spread the message of inclusivity while pointing that Penticton youth are in need of more supports.
“This community is just such a wonderful community and has potential to really click. I think we’re almost there, but there are some holes in the system, the mental health care system,” McKinlay said. “With events like this we can work from the grassroots level and affecting the youth where they’re at rather than waiting for them to get ejected from the system.”
After moving to Penticton from the Kootenays, McKinlay and her mother, Terri McKinlay, discovered there are insufficient supports for youth in communities all over B.C.
“It’s something that we really need to work on as a province and as a society in general,” Rylee said.
Terri feels there has been progress made since three provincial ministries came together in 2013 to fund the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative Project which created an initial eight action teams in communities throughout B.C.
There are now 64 local action teams in the province, with the McKinlays taking part in the South Okanagan team.
“They all share a common goal to improve access to mental health support to youth and for families to get support and education,” Terri said.
She noted there have been documented support process which have helped in communities since the creation of the action teams, but the road to societal change is a long one.
“Like any big change it’s going to be a slow process,” Terri said. “I think it’s events like this that are exactly what we need to reach out. The people who need to learn about this and feel that they can reach out for support are more likely to come to these grass-roots type, smaller community events and speak with people who have been through it. Even if we reach out to one person who needs it, it’s very meaningful.”
Jenine Nicholas, the event organizer and a counsellor, youth worker and owner of the Wiisnin Let’s Eat concession stand, worked at a pilot program youth drop-in centre in Penticton after she moved here from Ontario 14 years ago. She has seen recession as opposed to progress when it comes to addressing the issues faced by youth in the community. She worked with many of the students, including Rylee, who were part of the 2014 grad class at Princess Margaret whose classmate committed suicide.
“The effect of that is still impacting our young people today. When you lose somebody there is no special timeline. Loss will come out in different ways and it’s all about choices,” Nicholas said.
It is that message that is embodied in the slogan of the event, “It’s Your Choice,” promoting proactive, healthy choices and positivity.
“It’s your choice to help yourself, it’s your choice to grieve, to share, to respect yourself, love yourself, honour yourself and today is about celebrating children and family in our community,” Nicholas said.
“There’s huge gaps. I see us going backwards instead of going forward. We shouldn’t be losing as many young people as we are to suicide. We need to create more awareness about mental health. we all have some issues some way, it’s all about how we address it and deal with it,” Nicholas said.
Though the ball has started rolling as groups work to bring support to Penticton like the youth centre project being put together by YES (Youth Engagement Strategy).
Nicholas hopes different organizations can come together to support the common goal of assisting youth in Penticton.
“Everyone has strengths and gifts and if each person and organization will pull from that then we can be successful and I believe that they will reach their goal and we will get a new drop-in centre,” Nicholas said.