The New Mentality & Youth Peer Support

The Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) supports more than 85 accredited community-based children’s mental health centres across Ontario, serving some 150,000 children and their families annually. Their services are provided at no cost to clients. The New Mentality is one of the programs offered through the CMHO. The CMHO website provides the following overview of The New Mentality program:

  • The New Mentality is a network of youth facilitated groups from across Ontario who work with partner agencies in their communities to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
  • Each group has dedicated youth and adult allies who work together on many projects throughout the year to promote meaningful engagement by empowering youth to concentrate on the work they are most passionate about.
  • The New Mentality works to foster youth’s voice without feeling tokenized, and to influence change within the mental health system and beyond.
  • Once a year, every group from across Ontario sends 2 or 3 youth accompanied by their adult allies to meet with the other groups from the network to brainstorm ideas, share projects, build skills and make connections at an event we call Disable The Label.

This month the SHRC met with Cathy Dyer (Project Coordinator) and Caralyn Quan (Network Coordinator), from The New Mentality. We asked them the following questions, about The New Mentality program.

1) What is your program mandate? How does peer support align with your mandate?

Through a network of groups, we engage youth to amplify their voice, so that they can have a say in how services are delivered. We also help youth to build mental health awareness in their community. In their groups, youth work on projects, to reduce stigma.

We achieve our mandate through peer support groups. We have found that peer support is one of the easiest points of access to help.

2) Who uses, or benefits, from your program?

Youth (13-24) use our program. The program benefits youth, their community, and the mental health system/services. Youth experience the groups and then spread and build mental health awareness in their communities.

3) What does peer support mean to you?

There is support inherent in being in a community. Peer support creates a safe and easier space to speak. It is a space for youth to explore using their voice. It offers them a space to practice being in a supportive relationship with their peers. They also get to model how they want to be in a community.

 4) Why do you use the peer support model to support your specific client group?

Developmentally youth need groups. Peer groups are essential to their development. Also, the model is flexible and allows for easier turnover and group transitions. It is also naturally more fun and joyful in a group setting. It is less daunting in a group. The peer group provides more healthy and therapeutic outcomes. Also, power is balanced out in a group. When you have a critical mass of young people in a group, the adult’s voice is drowned out, making more room for youth voices.

 5) What client benefits have you observed through the provision of your peer support program/groups?

There are therapeutic benefits. We see young people get healthier. They have less suicidal thoughts, and their emotion regulation gets better. We also notice that their leadership and project management skills increase.

 6) Are there any barriers that might prevent you from successfully outreaching to, and delivering peer support programs/groups to youth?

Stigma is a big issue. For example, sometimes young people don’t want to be seen walking through the doors, of an agency providing mental health services. Money is another issue. We do not pay agency staff and youth. With this, youth have to choose between volunteering for free and getting a part time job.  In addition, because we do not pay agency staff to deliver our program, they need to get permission from their manager/agency to do it. However, some agencies have started to build the expense, for the program, into their budget.

 7) What specific steps have you taken to ensure that your program is inclusive? Do your groups (or your program) effectively support the needs of the many diverse communities that might require assistance?

We are a strong learning organization; where we try to co-create with each new member, in ways that allow us to expand our ability to become more inclusive. We also try to make our intake process more accessible, by not doing (or limiting our use of) intake forms; and we do not ask our client’s about their health history. In addition, the groups define themselves, and they are driven by the agencies supporting them.

We also partner with local (grassroots) groups, like Spoke N’ Heard, to improve our reach. We are also in the process of seeking grants to work with racialized communities in urban settings. Further, we try to incorporate and model Indigenous approaches, gender expression, and anti-racism in our annual youth retreat. Also, we look at diversity and representation when we are deciding which agencies or groups to fund.

 8) Do you collaborate with other peer support providers? If yes, why and how?

Our capacity dictates when we are able to collaborate, and also who we might choose to collaborate with. Also, when choosing partnerships, we intentionally seek out geographic representation and diversity.

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