VSB students talk mental health and wellness

Schools & Students

More than 250 students and 40 educators from 18 Vancouver secondary schools congregated at Sir Charles Tupper for a day focused on youth mental health and wellness.   

The Balancing Our Minds Summit is led by youth, for youth to talk about mental health, decrease stigma and connect people to community resources. The Vancouver summit was one of five held in schools throughout the province, helping to raise awareness of and reduce stigma about mental health and wellbeing. 

“Mental health is like physical health, but in a way it’s more powerful because if your mental health is not good then you can’t function,” says Stephanie Barrentes, VSB student volunteer. “It’s super, super important that we learn tools and find resources for that because we might not know we are dealing with something there is help for.” 

The daylong summit began with an agreement by attendees to create and maintain a code of behavior to ensure a safe space for all. In addition to several keynote youth speakers sharing their experiences through story and song, attendees also participated in a guided mindfulness exercise. Breakout sessions included hands on activities from yoga and creating Indigenous medicine pouches, to information sessions about eating for wellness, substance use, and wellness and self-care. 

“We’ve had activities around finding balance in your life,” explains Josh Ramos, VSB student volunteer.  “You might notice someone with mental health issues stops doing things they normally enjoy.” 

The summit also enabled students to connect with resources and support organizations at a resource fair. 

The Balancing Our Minds summits are supported by the Health Literacy Team at BC Children’s Hospital with assistance from the Canucks for Kids Fund. 

“As educators, we recognize there is a great need to connect students in the district with one another because there are some awesome things happening in each of the different schools,” says Andrea Alkalay, teacher at David Thompson. “We thought about how to bring everyone together to have those important discussions and how can we best support the youth in our district. How can we best provide them with help around mental health and wellness, and, get conversations going?” 

What began as a one-day event in Vancouver is now a province-wide movement to support and promote mental wellness for high school aged youth. The VSB organizing committee included Sir Charles Tupper principal Alison Ogden; district principal of student services Selma Smith; Andrea Alkalay, teacher at David Thompson; and two David Thompson Secondary School Grade 12 students Stephanie and Josh.