With more than two-thirds of adults living with a mental health problem reporting that symptoms first appeared in their youth, the Mental Health Commission of Canada believes it is important to ensure meaningful child and youth engagement is evident throughout the Commission’s work. The MHCC created the Youth Council in 2008 to listen to the needs, experiences, and advice of a group of young people who have lived experience with mental health problems or illnesses, either personally or through a family member or friend.
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About the Youth Council
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) recognizes that empowering and collaborating with youth is essential to improving our mental health care system, with as much as 70 per cent of young adults living with mental health problems or illnesses reporting that symptoms started in childhood.
In response to recommendations found in the Senate report Out of the Shadows at Last, the MHCC’s former Child and Youth Advisory Committee set out to provide the opportunity for meaningful child and youth engagement by creating the Youth Advisory Council. Since its inception in 2008, the Youth Council has provided opportunities for youth with personal experiences of mental health problems and illnesses to inform our work.
The Youth Council is made up of youth between the ages of 18 and 30 who have lived experience with mental health problems or illnesses, either personally or through a family member or friend.
The Youth Council’s main goals are to:
- advocate on behalf of young people with mental health problems
- engage other local, provincial, and national youth mental health networks
- participate in projects arising from MHCC initiatives
- represent the youth voice at MHCC events
- participate in public events to promote recovery and inspire other youth
The Youth Council aims to increase youth participation in decisions related to mental health service delivery and policy making and increase the impact of youth involvement in system change.
Members have been asked to participate in various MHCC projects in order to provide youth perspectives, including the MHCC’s anti-stigma research initiative, the homelessness and mental health project, the Mental Health Strategy for Canada and many former Advisory Committee projects.
In 2012, the Youth Council created a video about their encounters with mental health stigma. The video’s messaging, location scouting, and shooting were driven by Youth Council members.
The Youth Council is involved in numerous projects in 2013, including helping to mark national Child and Youth Mental Health Day and assisting with a version of the Mental Health Strategy for Canada targeted to youth set for release in 2014. The goal of this project is to advance system change recommendations as defined by young people across Canada.
To find out more about the Youth Council, email Keely Brach, Network Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.
An active youth mental health advocate, Kristen Zaun brings lived experience with psychosis, depression and anxiety to the Youth Council. She has experience in various local mental health organizations in the Halifax area including, Family SOS, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Halifax and Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program. Kristen believes that educating and engaging children and youth in meaningful ways about mental health issues is essential for impacting future changes to the system. Kristen is passionate about improving mental health in the workplace, as she believes healthy workplaces make healthier individuals, who make healthier families, which lead to healthier communities and a better quality of life for all Canadians. A member since 2011, Kristen is the Chair of the Youth Council, and has been involved with the MHCC's anti-stigma initiative, Opening Minds, and the development of an MHCC project examining the transition stages between youth and adult mental health services. In 2014, Kristen completed her BAA in Child and Youth Study at Mount Saint Vincent University.
Amanee Elchehimi is an active member of her local Muslim community in Surrey, British Columbia, where she has worked on various Muslim youth projects in the Lower Mainland. She previously worked as a youth outreach worker with vulnerable immigrant and refugee youth, and completed a research study on refugee children and youth’s mental health and well-being in BC as part of her Masters of Public Health degree at Simon Fraser University. Currently, she is a Community Engagement Coordinator, focusing on the educational attainment and success of vulnerable populations in Vancouver. On behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), she has presented at a forum on the intersections between mental illness and addictions. She has a deep interest in cultural competency and diversity training in mental health, particularly as Canada becomes increasingly diverse. In March 2013, Elchehimi was elected as Vice Chair of the MHCC’s Youth Council.
Ally Campbell comes to the Youth Council through her love for writing, visual arts, and public speaking. She believes that every person's story is important and she sees that many youth struggle to fully express what they are feeling while on their journey with mental illness and recovery. Ally hopes that by sharing her story, she may encourage others to embrace their own stories and share them in unique ways.
Currently, Ally is studying Social Work at Laurentian University, while also working full-time as an intervenor with the Canadian Deafblind Association (CDBA). She also runs the Secondhand Sight photography project which seeks to create awareness around socio-economic and humanitarian issues. Ally has a passion for working with people with different abilities and hopes to one day use her experience with the CDBA and the Mental Health Commission of Canada – along with her Social Work degree – to help create safe, interdependent communities for people on a journey to recovery.
Dustin Garron joined the Youth Council in 2013 as the founder of the Mental Health Project for Youth, an Ottawa-based, not-for-profit mental health organization that provides resources and peer support services for youth. He was among the five 2012 “Faces of Mental Illness,” a campaign created and organized by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health. Over the last year, Dustin has been a spokesperson for mental health across Ontario, participating in public service announcements and acting as a spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk Campaign. As a person with lived experience with generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder, and borderline personality disorder, Dustin is a firm advocate of peer support services for youth, services that aided him in his own recovery during three hospital admissions. It was the assistance, love, and support of his peers, Dustin believes, that encouraged him to start his own not-for-profit organization at the young age of 18.
Patricia Laliberté lives and works full time in Ottawa, Ontario after growing up on Montréal’s South Shore. She is an activist and outspoken advocate of youth mental health issues, and, based on her own experiences with mental illness, is often critical of current treatment practices. In particular, she believes that treatment for mental illness should be more personalized with interventions tailored to individual needs. She also believes that workplaces need better mental health support systems in place, especially for men, where speaking about mental illness is often highly stigmatized. Like many of the Youth Council members, Patricia has also been involved in the adjudication process for the MHCC’s SPARK Training Institute, an initiative in which participants learn techniques for moving evidence-informed research from the fields of mental health, substance use, and addictions more quickly into practice.
Originally from Williams Lake, British Columbia, Simran Lehal currently lives in Hay River, Northwest Territories, and has been involved in various youth mental health projects in areas of northern Canada. She has worked as a peer support volunteer for the Crisis Prevention, Intervention, and Information Centre for Northern British Columbia and most recently helped mark Bell Let’s Talk Day in Hay River at a local high school. On behalf of the Youth Council and the MHCC, Simran presented at a January 2013 webinar focusing on child and youth mental health stigma reduction. The event was co-hosted by the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada Best Practices initiative. Simran continues her dedicated work in the areas of school-based mental health, mental wellness, resiliency, community mental health, and cultural diversity.
Don Mahleka joined the Youth Council in 2013 as the co-founder of a radio show in Hamilton, Ontario called Revolutionary Lives, which strives to reduce stigma, empower youth through leadership and creative outlet opportunities, and collaborate with existing resources in the mental health system in the Hamilton area. In 2013, Don and others on his radio show team secured a grant to host a youth mental health conference, where they advocated for a city-wide youth mental health strategy aligned with recommendations in the Mental Health Strategy for Canada and Evergreen Framework, which provides a vision for transforming Canada’s child and youth mental health system. Having moved to Canada from Zimbabwe, Don is especially interested in promoting diversity and collaboration among providers of youth mental health services, and sits on the Hamilton Youth Advisory Committee, as well as the African Canadian Network of Hamilton board. He brings personal experiences with depression and anxiety to the Youth Council.
Katie Robinson became interested in promoting positive mental health after her recovery from an eating disorder. She started by volunteering for local agencies, joining youth groups, and speaking about her own experiences. She has also been involved in mental health promotion provincially as a past member of The New Mentality, a network of youth-facilitated groups that partner with local agencies to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
It is important to Katie to increase awareness and educate the public about mental health. She believes it is vital to continue having open conversations and to support those who are struggling, knowing that mental illness is likely to impact the lives of all Canadians at some point. Most of all, she wants to help others suffering from mental health problems and mental illnesses to know they are not alone. Advocating for mental health, especially among young people, has become an extremely important part of her life.
Katie was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She graduated from Lakehead University in 2012 with a degree in Business Administration. She plans to go back to school and study Social Work in the near future.
Jack Saddleback is a Cree two-spirit transgender gay man from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta. Growing up as a genderqueer child, he faced bullying and discrimination at school and in his community. He was diagnosed with severe depression at the age of 14 and struggled for years to reach a stage of recovery. He eventually came out as transgender at the age of 18 after his battle with suicidal thoughts and depression. With the help of conventional therapy in conjunction with traditional Cree ceremonies that place a holistic lens on recovery, he was able to overcome his depression.
Jack attributes his recovery to his family, and their dedication to helping him recover from mental illness. Jack’s love for his family has empowered him to take an active role in creating change for other youth dealing with mental health problems. As an executive member of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union, Jack works within student governance to promote mental health among undergrad students. Along with mental health activism, he advocates for gender and sexual diversity issues, two-spirit issues, and HIV & AIDS. He understands that all people need to speak up and inspire one another to take charge of their own recovery.
Nancy Savoie is an extremely passionate youth mental health advocate. Using her sharp wit and humour, she regularly speaks at high schools and universities about her lived experience with mental illness as a way of decreasing stigma and increasing youth engagement. Nancy works with narrative therapy, a psycho-therapeutic technique that empowers youth to speak about their personal experiences with mental illness, and which, according to Nancy, creates an open and honest space where youth can speak about individual paths to recovery. Nancy is an ongoing peer support worker for at-risk and youth in custody in St. John, New Brunswick. Other members of the Youth Council think she should be a stand-up comedian.
In her second year as a member of Youth Council, Vanessa Setter is a full-time student at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, and is involved in the Active Minds program, a university-based organization that provides information and knowledge about mental illness to students and members of the Peterborough community. As a youth mental health advocate, Vanessa strives to promote awareness about mental illness in order to reduce stigma. A lack of awareness, according to Vanessa, makes it difficult for youth to ask for help, and in a society where we are trying to create acceptance and openness about lived experience, the current mental health system often fails youth and adults alike.
Updated: January 2015
Note: Youth Council bios are updated annually. The above bios do not necessarily identify all current Youth Council members.