Give youth impacted by mental health concerns a space to work, a little support and encouragement, then stand back and be amazed by what they accomplish.
“We started by putting out a call to the CASA community to say: do you know any young people who are interested in doing advocacy work?” recalls Anna O’Brien-Langer (pictured at right), who serves as the CYC’s Co-Facilitator.
Three years later, an initial group of four youth has mushroomed to 30 members organized around four subcommittees overseeing multiple projects, including the CYC’s own glossy periodical – Unseen: Youth Mental Wellness Magazine.
Other CYC subcommittees are engaged in projects involving social media, community education (via presentations organized through the Edmonton Public School Board), and community outreach. The latter includes talks by CYC members to mental health professionals and others.
“The CASA Youth Council’s structure, direction and projects all come from the youth themselves. They decide what they’re passionate about, what they think is meaningful and they go out and do it,” says O’Brien-Langer.
Recent CYC activities included a youth mental health presentation to the Alberta College of Social Workers Conference, and an address to several hundred junior and senior high school students in Bonnyville, Alberta.
The CYC will also organize, plan and host a community lecture on youth mental health in coming months as part of CASA’s Dr. Roger Bland Lecture Series on Improving Children’s Mental Health.
“CASA provides us with the means to put our passion to work, and they leave most of the responsibility in the hands of the youth,” says Rachel Goud (pictured at left), a 20-year-old, third-year neuroscience student at the University of Alberta, who Co-Chairs the Unseen subcommittee. “They let us create our own projects and provide us with the resources to make it happen. It’s amazing.”
Like many CYC members, Goud – an articulate, engaging young woman whose career goal is to become a psychiatrist – has a compelling personal story to tell. Her mother suffers from major depressive disorder, and Goud saw first-hand the profound impact it had on the entire family.
“I saw how much she struggled, how much of a toll it took on her and our family, and the resources she needed to make her life better,” she says.
“So I knew early on that mental health is something I was interested in pursuing, and I’m really happy that CASA has provided me with the means to get involved as a youth.”