A free program in Airdrie aims to eliminate the stigma surrounding youth mental health and help local young people connect with the resources they need.
Viewpoints is offered by Closer to Home Community Services (CTH), which has been operating in Airdrie for more than 20 years and is a spoke of the Community Links hub. According to Chris White, youth facilitator with CTH, Viewpoints is an evidence-based preventative skill-building program meant to help youth aged eight to 17 learn self-reliance.
“We have seen there is a destabilizing feature to this epidemic and quarantine that has had youth detached from communities,” White said.
Jessica Melnychuk, fund development and communication specialist with CTH, agreed, saying the pandemic has had a major impact on everyone.
“It has really brought youth mental health to the forefront of everyone’s minds,” she said. “Beyond that, we know from our experience in the community over the years how important it is to de-stigmatize mental health challenges.”
Statistics on closertohome.com suggest two-thirds of young adults who feel the effects of mental health issues first experience symptoms as children. Additionally, between 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are already experiencing mental health issues.
“The data suggests we are seeing youth at much earlier ages being impacted by the beginnings of mental health issues that can last a lifetime,” White said.
White said social interactions are important for a young person’s development. He added hanging out with friends, playing sports or even waving at someone on the street can play a role in that development. Unfortunately, with young people stuck at home for most of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those social interactions have been interrupted.
Through the Viewpoints program, youth can set up one-on-one mentoring sessions, take part in workshops, clubs and activities or get help accessing other community services. The program has been operating in Airdrie since 2017.
“Viewpoints is meant to provide both social and skill-building opportunities where essential social-emotional skills can be practiced,” White said. “Hopefully in the future, when times get tough as they do for all of us, these skills will help with resilience.”
According to CTH's website, Viewpoint works with other organizations, groups, families and youth in a setting that is trauma-informed and community-minded.
"Viewpoints ensures youth are able to access support even before they start experiencing symptoms of poor mental health," the website said.
Melnychuk said with the arrival of COVID-19, CTH has adapted to ensure it can continue to provide services like Viewpoints. While there are still in-person programs available, CTH has also made its programs available online.
Besides Viewpoints, CTH provides programs for youth and families – both in person and virtually – that can range anywhere from parenting support and youth wellness, to life skills courses, foster care and housing assistance.
“We are here and we are available,” White said. “We have a wide range of approaches and programs that can meet the needs of an individual, family or an organization. They can do it on their own terms or their own time.”
For more information on Viewpoints and other programs, you can visit closertohome.com.