HEADSTRONG - personal resilience and community hope through youth action

Mental Health Commission of Canada

HEADSTRONG, a national program from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, is an evidence-based youth initiative championing mental wellness. HEADSTRONG inspires and equips youth aged 12 and up to Be Brave, Reach Out, and Speak Up for mental health, leading peers, schools, and families to a more compassionate, hopeful future through positive action. This workshop will introduce the audience to the successful, highly interactive Virtual HEADSTRONG program delivered live directly into classrooms across Canada. Central to this symposium, youth will share how participation in HEADSTRONG has impacted them and their community. Audiences will hear from high school students who have implemented HEADSTRONG cludes in their schools offering mental health promotions and anti-stigma activities they design and deliver themselves. Young adults from Groundbreakers who train to become HEADSTRONG emcees will share their experiences leading virtual summits, and what it means to be a person with lived experience to be a key part of the summit team. The HEADSTRONG team offers an overview of the development of the virtual program and how community partnership allows every summit to feel like a safe space for diverse youth audiences. Consistent evaluation informs meaningful content and the ability to react swiftly to changing learning styles and emerging mental health concerns. A brief overview of HEADSTRONG’s evaluation process will be shared with some key data on help-seeking and attitudinal change. Youth have the power to change minds, HEADSTRONG gathers that energy into a focused approach for young champions to recognize personal resilience and collectively transform their environment. 


Fiona Haynes
Fiona is the national Program Manager for the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s HEADSTRONG youth leadership initiative. HEADSTRONG inspires young people to become leaders in their own schools and communities, challenging stigma and sharing hope. Fiona has worked in frontline non-profit and community mental health for the past 15+ years, with the MHCC, Foothills School Division, the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta and No Limits (UK). She has a lifetime of familial and personal experience with mental illness, and it’s that experience that motivates her every day to change the way people think about mental health. Fiona is mom to one daughter and two dogs.

Laura Mullaly
Laura Mullaly has been working in the health and mental health sector for over 8 years with roles focusing on health promotion, community engagement, project management and stakeholder relations. Since joining the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) in 2016, Laura has worked on projects focusing on recovery-oriented practice, early childhood mental health, chronic disease, psychological health and safety and the mental health of older adults. Laura holds a Masters of Public Health from the University of Alberta and a Bachelors of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences from the University of Ottawa. Laura is passionate about health equity and mobilizing change in the health and mental health system.

Key takeaways

  • Focus: Headstrong program; personal resilience and community help through youth eyes
  • Agenda: overview of headstrong, outline the summit, share how lived experience is at the heart of headstrong, review how headstrong is knowledge mobilization in action, and briefly share about the evaluation of the program
  • Headstrong: MH commission of Canada national org, funded by Health Canada to improve the lives of all Canadians through research. Headstrong was developed through 5 years of real-world research. The program inspires youth aged 12 and up to become mental health and wellness champions in their schools and communities. The program is evidence based
  • Traditionally, headstrong was a 1 day, in-person summit bringing together youth from diff schools within the area for unique learning, experiences, and to reshape understanding of MH
  • Program faced challenges due to covid, but during the pandemic, youth needed headstrong more than ever. Result: hybrid, virtual adaptation that could be delivered virtually, directly to classrooms. 
  • Activities involved in summit:
    • Connect with peers about topics related to mental health, resources, proactive supports, & gain a deeper understanding of stigma and how to challenge it
    • Headstrong is a unique opportunity for youth that doesn't focus on symptoms and diagnosis. 
  • Key component is that the work does not stop at the summit! Participants are encouraged to take learning and insights back to their schools and communities
  • Participants are also encouraged to take resources back to school and communities to share
  • Headstrong also has modules to work through with the following topics
    • Be brave
    • Reach out and understand what stigma is
    • Speak up 
  • Headstrong trains youth to help deliver the event
  • Evaluation consists of pre and post surveys, as well as satisfaction

Key Learning Objectives (defined by presenters)

  1. Learn about the virtual HEADSTRONG program as a conduit for knowledge mobilization
  2. Hear from youth engaged with HEADSTRONG as student leaders, emcees and lived-experience speakers on the impact of the program
  3. Understand how consistent evaluation informs HEADSTRONG’s practice in the fast-changing field of education and mental health
  4. We want participants to know there's an opportunity they can share with their communities for a dynamic youth mental health program that is tested, proven, funded and easy to access. HEADSTRONG is rooted in community, informed and enriched by lived experience, and backed by thorough evaluation and development practices. This symposium will demonstrate how those elements balance and amplify each other and form the very foundation of HEADSTRONG, where every summit is both centered on each individual participant and part of a national movement for a more compassionate Canada.  

Key Themes

  1. Youth-led discussion and application of mental health
  2. Destigmatizing mental health among peers

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