Youth Trailblazers - Leading from Lived Experience

This plenary featured youth who are shaking up the system through advocacy, work and expertise guided by their diverse lived experience in order to address gaps, meet system needs and improve outcomes for young people and their families.

Key Learnings

  1. We need to consider whose voices are left out of conversation around mental health, as well as consider how spiritual health and cultural health fit into conceptualizations of mental health.
  2. We need to embrace more diverse platforms for people to share their lived experience, and need to make space for young leaders to tell us what they need.
  3. There needs to be equitable access to supports, especially for free services.

Session Speakers

Mardi Daley - Mardi Daley, B.A. is an advocate, consultant and Peer Specialist in youth mental health and homelessness in Toronto. Working from the lens of lived experience, Mardi collaborates on participatory research projects to support by-youth for-youth resources, training and ethical engagement practices. Mardi's current focus is supporting strengths-based employment opportunities for youth with lived/living experiences of homelessness and building out her startup, Lived Experience Lab. 

Harmony Eshkawkogan - "Aannii, Harmony Eshkawkogan ndishnikaaz, Wiikwemikong ndoonjiba, Ottawa ndonji. Ginoozhe ndoodem, Niishdana ashi ngodwaaswi, Anishinaabe Midewiwin-kwe ndaww. 

Hello, My name is Harmony Eshkawkogan, I am from Wiikwemikong and live in Ottawa. My clan is Pike and I am 26 winters old. I am a part of the 3 fires tribe and use she/her pronouns. 

I am excited to share my lived experience as an urban Indigenous youth to inspire the next generations that it’s possible to learn how to live in 2 worlds. I’m currently attending Willis college for the Indigenous Community Service Worker program and weekly, Anishinaabemowin language classes by Assembly 7 Generations.
 I am creating a zine with other youth about protecting the waterways by getting other artists to submit their artwork related to water, Follow us on Instagram @youthwaterleaderszine
 I am working on building a digital resource for Indigenous educators and allies to bring further attention to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action that relate to Education (calls 6-12) and Language and Culture (calls 13-16).  Follow us on Twitter @NishinEd"

Staci Smith - Stacie is a recent Kinesiology graduate from Saint John, New Brunswick. She completed a certificate in Health, Wellness & Recreation at Eastern College in 2014. She was the President of both the Student Association of Health & Human Performance and Vice President of the Dalhousie Kinesiology Society during her time at Dalhousie. In this capacity, she has worked to draw attention of senior leadership at Dalhousie University regarding the needs of both faculty and students within the Kinesiology program. She is also Co-Executive Director of the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health. She was the recipient of the PHE Canada Student Leadership Award in 2018-2019 for her leadership role in the School of Health & Human Performance. She is the founder of the COVID-19 Student Support Network.

Yalinee Barendra - Yalinee Barendra (she/her) is a mental health advocate. She is a member of the Frayme Family Advisory Committee. She has lived experience both as a youth and family caregiver in the mental health and substance use system. She has advised for projects involving organizations such as CAMH. She believes in the power of small changes to make an impact in systematic change.

Thoughts from those with Lived/Living Expertise

What are some of the highlights?

  • Recognition of the dance between lived experience and work, whether as a volunteer or a paid position and the fact that too little attention is paid to those who wear two hats is a reminder of the false reality is that there is only clinicians and clients, and that clinicians cant have their own stories. The stigma in the system is very real not only for those seek help but also those who work in the system.  We need to work to make space for those who work in the system to share their story in the way they want when they want. 
  • Covid showed how an online place with one point of access could help youth find what they needed, and to find ways to connect to peers and support.  Covid also brought home the need for better and more equitable access to services, as not every person has the ways, means and resources to gain access, especially where wait-times are substantial. 

How can information gained be used? 

  • Recognition that the lived experiences and voices need to be a part of changes at the personal care, program/service, structural and system levels in leading and informing change. There is the opportunity and benefit in providing the space to build the foundations and capacity for youth and families to be authentically engaged.

What are the implications?

  • Having social supports can help one through a tough day; having the supports system is critical; peer support means having someone walk with you who can say, ‘me too’ and can make a significant difference in addressing isolation and stigma.
  • Accessing social supports can be complicated; it’s not always known where, and how to engage with such supports. Structures and systems need to be put in place to make it easier.
  • There is value in social support, it means giving and receiving. One can gains from having connections and losing the connections can be detrimental to one’s overall well-being. 

What would you like to know more about?

  • How the system can create space for those with complex mental health issues, as they are often absent at the worst or invisible at the best in this conversation. Similarly, there is little to no conversations around substance use or other addiction issues. 

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