Starting from scratch: Insights from eight years of the ACCESS Open Minds Youth Council

ACCESS Open Minds National Youth Council

Over the past decade, it has become increasingly common to look at young people themselves in youth mental health research and service design. Part of a broader push towards stakeholder engagement in healthcare, the rise of youth and family-informed approaches to decision-making is leading to exciting new shifts in the traditional power relations of mental healthcare. These strides, however, did not come easily. Someone had to start from scratch. For the better part of a decade, this is what the ACCESS Open Minds National Youth Council has done. This presentation will examine the ground-breaking development of this Canada-wide advisory body renowned for its geographic diversity and early influence on national-scale research. Through the voices of the Council’s past and current members, a set of broad engagement principles will be presented – best practices in how youth and their allies can work together to build something radically new from scratch.


Feodor Poukhovski-Sheremetyev
Feodor Poukhovski-Sheremetyev is a third-year medical student at the University of Ottawa and has held various leadership positions with ACCESS Open Minds for six years. Throughout his post-secondary career, he has advised youth mental healthcare policy and service design at the local, provincial, and national levels. Focusing on how factors outside the clinic affect youth, his advocacy has led him to examine the macrosocial determinants of mental health through interdisciplinary research in psychiatry and social theory.    

Gabriella Urgel
Gabby is a youth council member from Saint John, New Brunswick. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of New Brunswick and is a current Bachelor of Social Work student at St. Thomas University. Her passion is advocating for the improvement of mental health services in her province. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering with various mental health non-profits such as Camp Kerry Society and Take This.

Romeo May
Hello, my name is Romeo, I'm 29 years old. I am a single father to a 6 year old princess and I love helping people. I am a member of the ACCESS National Youth Council. I was previously active with ACCESS RIPAJ before and during a part of COVID-19.  I was also implicated in creating video games dealing with the stigma of mental health. I am heavily involved in the fitness world as I do online and personal training. I would like to continue to still be involved to help and show youth that anything is possible as long as you try.

Key takeaways

  • Youth councils often play an advisory role to an organization
  • Positive aspects of youth council models: minimally fixed roles, removal of barriers to entry, commitment spread across a group, building relationships, allows youth to have their voices heard at the table of policy
  • Disadvantages: the bureaucracy of youth engagement (separation from the central authority)
  • Member turnover (distributed responsibility vs distributed irresponsibility), connecting local concerns with the National Youth Council
  • Principles of engagement: the balance of rigidity and fluidity, meaningful engagement vs superficial engagement, mutual accountability 

Key Learning Objectives (defined by presenters)

  1. Developing a knowledge of the potential of youth and mental healthcare organizations to collaboratively produce innovative approaches to research, service design, and knowledge translation, as well as learning how to apply this potential to participants’ own work
  2. Gaining an overview of the “advisory council” model of stakeholder engagement – its strengths, but also its weaknesses. The case study of the ACCESS Open Minds Youth Council’s development serves not only as a possible roadmap of how to create a new council, but also of the possible reason to choose a different model for engagement based on the circumstances
  3. Understanding the challenges inherent to any collaboration between stakeholders and the organizations that aim to serve them. It is only by being aware of these challenges that a team can hope to mitigate them and develop a meaningful advisory or decision-making relationship

Key Themes

  1. Youth-family engagement
  2. Youth council models

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