They have heard about it, or been living through it and now a group of students is bravely taking a step forward to talk about it — mental health.
“For the longest time everyone was like ‘yeah, the kids are fine, the kids are OK.’ But really, they aren’t exactly OK, they just don’t know how to seek out the help that they need,” said Shawn Dobler, a Grade 11 student at Princess Margaret Secondary School.
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Reading about the spike in mental health and substance use cases in Penticton has high school students raising money and speaking out on the need for youth centre in the city.
Hussain Sattar, Grade 10 student at Princess Margaret and classmate Ashley Grunow both took the initiative to start fundraising for the YES Project youth resource centre after reading about the rise in prevalence in mental health issues in Penticton.
“For me, I’ve gotten bullied quite a lot through elementary and middle school. So when I heard about the YES Project and what they were trying to make money for was their resource centre, it kind of came at home for me, came at the heart,” Sattar said.
The idea of a safe, comfortable space for youth spoke to Sattar and approximately 40 of his classmates who have come together to raise funds for the project.
“I felt like (a youth centre) is what I would have needed when I was still going through that,” Sattar said.
He and Grunow started talking about fundraising initiatives and getting the Maggie leadership group of students involved a few months ago.
“I just know a lot of people who have been bullied and with mental illnesses and stuff like that. I know they need someone to talk to and someone to help them. They can’t deal with it on their own,” Grunow said.
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The fundraisers started with bake sales and the donation of coffee from McDonald’s which they sell every Tuesday for $1 a cup and they plan to continue fundraising for the entire year. The latest effort was a Halloween haunted house and plans are forming to do some carolling and gingerbread bake sales around Christmas time with further events to come. The group of students have raised approximately $1,400 so far, with $1,300 coming from the haunted house event at the school for Halloween.
“It feels pretty awesome that students doing this by themselves without teachers or parents can raise $1,300 in three nights and $1,400 in total in two months,” Sattar said.
Sattar and Grunow said the barriers youth face when seeking help can be overwhelming for a young person facing mental health issues, and the YES Project’s goal of a youth centre could fill the gaps.
“I know friends who have had problems with depression anxiety. When they’ve gone to the hospital they’ve been denied the proper treatment they needed. They’ve been told they are putting it upon themselves and that it’s their fault,” Sattar said. “This resource centre could focus on the people who really need it, other than the hospital who have to focus on so many people that they can’t focus on people with depression or anxiety.”
The recent report from the province entitled: Is “Good” Good Enough outlines mental health across the province for youth, but seems to contradict what Penticton youth are feeling.
“Overall, B.C. youth have a positive view of themselves and their lives; however, there are differences across indicators between sexes,” the report reads.
Compared to males, fewer females reported positive self-esteem, positive self-rated mental health and positive life satisfaction. Females also considered suicide and attempted suicide at a higher rate than males, however males had a higher suicide mortality rate, the report said.
Also noted in the mental health section of the report is the lack of concrete data.
“Data are not yet available to report on the incidence and prevalence of the five most common mental health disorders, or the incidence of mental health drug prescriptions for children and youth, but this will be explored in future reports,” an outline of key findings of the report states.
While on the local level, mental health is an issue felt by every student.
“We’re trying to stop people from suffering alone and being stuck in this little corner and not having anyone to talk to. This resource centre is something that the city really needs, that the youth of the city really needs so they can be happy for once, or they can actually feel good,” Sattar said. “A lot of the youth are suffering alone and it’s not OK.”
Megyn Beckman, Grade 12, has struggled with her own mental health including depression and anxiety. She said Penticton needs a place where teens feel safe and she doesn’t feel like the hospital is the place for that.
“Don’t get me wrong, the hospital is great for a broken leg or if you need stitches, but when it comes to seeking help for mental issues, it’s not the place to be,” she said. “I was told when I was in there playing video games that I should sit in my room by myself to read a book to think about what I’ve done. In all reality, what I had done was brought myself in to get help and now I am no longer going there for my mental health issues, they are not equipped to deal with (youth) mental illnesses and I want other teens to have somewhere safe to go.”
Parents, the school district, counsellors and organizations trying to collaborate all agree more funding is needed for proportional resources. The YES Project, funded and co-ordinated by the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan-Similkameen, meets with youth advisors on a regular basis. They continue to pursue the goal of centralizing youth services in a youth centre to face the growing problem Penticton has.
Shelby Lynn Collins, Grade 10
“I have been bullied in the past and I do have depression, I do have anxiety and just knowing that there’s something else as an alternative besides the school really encourages me and I’m sure encourages a lot of other people to know that they can get the help that they need,” Collins said.
Rhylin Dobler, Grade 11
“I think the YES Project has a lot of opportunity to talk and have people get to say what they want to say without being judged or reprimanded. You take a look around and say ‘oh everyone around me seems fine,’ and they aren’t,” Dobler said. “Everyone around us has dealt with mental illness in some way shape or form. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, you’ve either had to look at it, feel it or go through it. I think it’s important to raise awareness around it and help people out with it.”
Hailey Grunow, Grade 12
“Everyone has dealt with mental illness whether it’s themselves, their friends or their family. Everyone can use support and that’s just a good thing,” Grunow said. “Not that long ago depression and anxiety wasn’t as common as it is today, a lot of older generations like your parents don’t understand as much. So they don’t know what to do with you if you’re dealing with mental struggles. Knowing that, hey, the YES Project is there for you, you can go there and just talk and find therapeutic ways to deal with depression and anxiety instead of how some people decide to deal with it with suicide or self harm.”
Shawnee Snell, Grade 10
“I think (mental health) is a huge issue because a lot of people in Penticton and around everywhere they have struggles with mental health and a lot of people don’t notice that it’s happening. I feel like actually getting the word out about it and trying to explain to kids that you can help is something that we really need. ”