When Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant hosted a Roundtable Consultation on Youth Addictions and Mental Health on May 11 at Bellwood Health Services, two of the participants were the co-chairs of Leaside High School’s Mental Health & Wellness Committee, Anna Postill and Vishar Yaghoubian. These two Grade 12 students joined a group of experts including social workers, psychiatrists, doctors and directors of support services as part of Mr. Oliphant’s investigation into these issues.
In the past, Mr. Oliphant has worked to pass legislation related to medical assistance in dying, genetic discrimination and Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The youth addictions and mental health initiative is aimed at developing “practical and innovative ideas and policies in the areas of both justice and health care that will help keep young people safe, productive and happy.”
Mr. Oliphant’s constituency assistant, Michael Fontein, suggested the invitation to the Leaside committee after reading an article about them in Leaside Life last year. The group has made it their priority to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness by raising awareness throughout the school community. They have attended conferences, organized intensive weeks of related activities and initiated “Green Tea Wednesdays,” visits by therapy dogs before exams, and regular morning announcements.
All of this work made Anna and Vishar ideal candidates to provide the students’ perspective at Mr. Oliphant’s Roundtable Consultation where the topics included barriers to treatment, delivering care and improving outcomes. During the discussion, Vishar stressed that it is “never too early to introduce mental health issues in school so that students become more comfortable with sharing them, thus lessening the stigma.”
Anna emphasized that support is needed in schools for those with mental health issues or “they won’t go to school and might seek comfort in drugs and alcohol in order to blend in.”
Mr. Oliphant was so impressed with these “engaged, thoughtful and passionate young women who want to make a difference in the world” that he invited them to continue their involvement by taking part in the May meeting of the Don Valley West Constituency Youth Council.
For their part, Vishar and Anna felt honoured to represent their community. “We are proud that our work was recognized and that we had a chance to make a difference with the government,” said Anna.
Both young women plan to continue their mental health work. Vishar is heading to Queen’s in health studies to focus on her joint interests of science and politics and hopes to “be involved with mental health issues” wherever she goes. Anna plans to combine engineering studies at the University of New Brunswick with her interest in business to help “solve problems and create positive change in the world.”
Denise Wilson, curriculum leader for student services and staff advisor to the Mental Health and Wellness Committee, commented that she has watched Vishar and Anna “use their passion for fairness, love and understanding to achieve remarkable results and make the school a better community.”