When the pandemic forced Em Hayes and Chloe Camacho to start delivering mental health presentations virtually to students, they weren’t sure what to expect.
The two CAMH Youth Ambassadors have been helping young Canadians feel more comfortable talking about mental health through Game Changers for Mental Health since the program launched in partnership with HBC Foundation in 2018.
Em and Chloe spent the past summer brainstorming and re-inventing the delivery of the program to launch virtually in classrooms in the fall. They were surprised by what happened next.
“At first, I was unsure how the virtual presentations would go, as I felt building rapport and trust with students would be easier in person,” said Em. “When we ended up having to present online, we used an interactive app that allowed students to answer our questions as well as ask their own. I was floored with their willingness to be vulnerable with us; they answered questions with honesty and asked us deeply personal questions. These presentations remind me of how important it is to share my mental health story and all the doors it was able to open for some students. This wouldn’t have been possible without the technology we used.”
In addition to sharing their own personal mental health stories, Em and Chloe engage with students about mental wellness, self-care and what to do when they need extra support. To date, they have presented to eight schools, around 40 classrooms and over 800 students.
“My students said they really liked hearing the stories from the two facilitators, as it made their advice feel more authentic, knowing that the two facilitators had been through their own mental health struggles,” said one educator whose class took part in a Game Changers for Mental Health virtual presentation. “We all appreciated the facilitators' vulnerability and courage in sharing their story. We also liked how this also normalized mental health struggles.”
Despite feeling nervous at first about presenting, even virtually, Chloe said that it’s been a great opportunity to grow.
“After a couple presentations, my confidence built up. Recently we presented to my old high school and when I heard positive feedback from my former teacher, I felt so proud of myself. I never would have had the confidence to give a presentation like this a few years ago.”
Virtual Game Changers presentations will continue throughout the next year, bringing in more Youth Ambassadors to expand the program to students across Canada. To request a presentation at your school or youth organization, visit the website.
In addition to presentations, Game Changers Ambassadors are developing youth mental health resources on topics like substance use, self-care, and crisis and suicide. Co-developed by youth and for youth, tip sheets like “Things you should know about mental health”, “Six ways to use alcohol more safely”, and “How to stay safe” have been downloaded over 2,000 times. Resources to support youth are also available for parents and other adult allies.