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The journey of the CASA Youth Council (so far, anyway)

Article from UNSEEN: Youth Mental Health Magazine written by CASA Youth Council 

There’s no denying that there is a stigma that surrounds mental health. There’s stigma in the way we talk about mental health— misconceptions in the media, the archaic stereotypes, and the way we label people. And there’s stigma in the way that we don’t talk about mental health—the idea that talking about our mental health is something to be shamed for, that it’s best to just keep silent about our struggles; the silence becomes deafening. It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken.Our voices are swallowed up by stigma.

The CASA Youth Council (CYC) started as an idea to bring the youth voice to CASA. Two CASA staff, chosen to act as council facilitators, put out a call inviting any interested youth to an informal information night in May 2016. From the very beginning, youth and facilitators worked together to dream up what the council could be. At our first meeting we talked about what we saw as the major barriers to wellness for young people with mental health challenges. After identifying the problems, we started discussing ways we could work together to do something about these issues.

Since the initial meeting in May, we have met monthly to discuss creative ways to make a difference in the youth mental health experience.It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken. (1) We work together to transform our ideas into actions. Our projects focus on increasing awareness about mental health and sharing our voices in our community. Our council is open to young people aged 13 to 25, with new members joining all the time. Our group thrives on flexibility with our members participating in the ways that feel safe and meaningful to them. As a group we represent a huge range of perspectives. Some of us have had mental health challenges, some of us have been the support person for someone with a mental illness, some of us want to work in the mental health field. We have experienced or witnessed mental health stigma in our junior high and high schools, at university, and in our workplaces. Though we come from many different backgrounds, we are all united by our desire to support each other and to make things better in our community. The council’s direction has been driven by the members’ desire to catalyze change in mental health through continuous action: adding a youth perspective to the mental health conversation, reducing stigma, and declaring that mental health is as important as physical health. Youth council gives us a platform to speak from that we might not otherwise have. The council is also a place where we can share our experiences and our stories with friends who treat us with understanding and respect. It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken. (2)We value having the opportunity to speak out about mental health and to explore our own journeys in a safe space.

We would love to see youth councils in schools, colleges and universities, workplaces, and communities all over our city, but even if you don’t have a council, you can start a conversation. Talk, and keep talking. Talk about your joys and your successes, talk about your trials and your struggles. Talk to your family and your friends and your supporters. Talk to each other. Talk to know your limits. Talk about mental illness and treatment. Talk about support and where to get it.It's not always abouttrying to fix somethingthat's broken. (3)

Talk to laugh with loved ones and talk to seek help when needed. Talk to open the doors to listen.Talk openly and often. The more we have conversations about mental health, the more we begin to understand. And the more we begin to understand, the more we begin to change.

To learn more about the CASA Youth Council, click here.