Engaging Youth in Mental Health Promotion: Mental Health and Addictions Champions
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Session presented on Sunday, July 26, 2015: Nurses working in public health settings face the challenge of leading effective, collaborative comprehensive approaches to youth mental health promotion amongst key stakeholders in the health, education and youth social service sectors. To assist in meeting this challenge, a professional nursing association in Ontario (Canada) partnered with six public health units, twelve school boards and provincial youth based organizations to develop a peer-based youth mental health initiative. The Youth Mental Health and Addiction Champion (YMHAC) Project, funded through the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Healthy Community Fund, aims to improve the health and wellbeing of children and youth through a focus on mental health promotion, stigma reduction, and substance misuse prevention. This project is based on evidence that demonstrates youth have the ability to improve the well-being of their peers by enhancing the quality of life in their schools and communities through influencing, supporting and being role models to their peer group. Youth involved in leadership programs support their peers by taking an active role in making their school and/or community a better place they are dedicated to creating and supporting healthy, safe, inclusive and flourishing communities. Youth engagement principles were used to train selected youth as mental health ambassadors, or Champions. These youth leaders leaRN strategies to increase awareness about mental health promotion and stigma reduction with a goal of fostering supportive, resilient and inclusive school environments. The YMHAC project demonstrates that inter-sectoral partnerships between public health, education and social service sectors is key for supporting youth mental health promotion outcomes and programming in schools. The YMHAC project also highlights the leadership role of public health nurses in supporting youth mental health promotion outcomes in school communities. Project evaluation findings demonstrate that public health nurses are ideally situated to engage in mental health promotion due to established partnerships with school boards, and their nursing knowledge and expertise with implementing health promotion strategies. This presentation will highlight the successes and challenges of this multi-stakeholder partnership and its focus on mental health promotion, with specific emphasis on the unique youth engagement and education strategies utilized to develop and deliver the program. Evaluation results will be shared that demonstrate the impact this initiative has had on the overall well-being of youth and social inclusion in school communities.