The Airdrie-based Thumbs Up Foundation is hoping to spark positive change around mental health during Mental Health and Addictions Awareness month with several grassroots initiatives taking place throughout June.
Chair of Thumbs Up Foundation, Kim Titus, said while there are international and national mental health initiatives throughout the month, she hopes to bring awareness to mental health at a more local level.
She said the month is a way to bring public awareness of mental health close to home and focus on residents who are struggling in Airdrie and the surrounding community, whether it be neighbours, friends, or family members.
“Mental health and addiction impact us locally,” she said. “We need to focus on [efforts] that raise our mental health and bring awareness to mental health to help us individually and collectively.”
Thumbs Up was established in 2015 after Titus lost her son Braden to suicide. He had struggled with depression for weeks before he died and was unable to get the help that he needed. The foundation was founded in an effort to provide mental health supports and resources to others in need, when they need it most.
This month, Thumbs Up will be partnering with Lonely, But Not Alone – a Calgary-based non-profit organization that aims to help youth by providing them with programs that enhance their quality of life and build character. She added the partnership intends to spearhead an initiative for local youth. While the details are still being finalized, funding has been approved to proceed with a youth-focused online scavenger hunt for mental health in the coming weeks.
Titus said the intention behind the initiative is to create an opportunity for youth to find out what resources are available to them, and build a sense of trust and togetherness in the community as they embark on their mental health journey.
“We’re really excited about being able to partner with [Lonely, But Not Alone] and allow them to do what they do with that kind of focus and support, because we think that education, knowledge, and awareness are big cornerstones of everything that Thumbs Up does,” she said.
According to Debbie Ojo, director of Lonely, But Not Alone, COVID-19 has taken a big toll on young people's mental health and the scavenger hunt came as a response to that.
"I have a younger sister and seeing her talk about her friends and how much they're struggling during this time not being able to leave their house," she said. "We thought why don't we try to do something to help with that?"
She added that oftentimes young people have difficulty speaking to their parents or adults about mental health, so the scavenger hunt aims to provide crucial resources for them.
"[The scavenger hunt] is to let them know that they're not the only ones going through this, and there are resources they can access to help them," she added.
A second initiative planned by the Thumbs Up Foundation this month includes a social media campaign encouraging participants to post a picture of something they enjoy in support of their mental health. The picture can be a photo of themselves, a loved one, an activity, or even an object, according to Titus.
“It could just be a simple picture of a book or a walk in the park, sewing, your pet, going for coffee with a friend, whatever it might be – just creating that kind of awareness of ‘this is what I do to support mine’.”
"[The campaign] creates a kind of boots on the ground awareness of what mental health is and the things that we can do that can improve it.”
She added that while the Thumbs Up for Mental Health campaign was started last year, it is all the more relevant this year because of the far-reaching effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people’s mental health.
Participants are encouraged to use hashtags such as #airdriementalhealth #tufonsuicide #thumbsupforbraden and #bekindalways, along with tagging the foundation on their respective social media channels.
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