NORTH BAY -- Using the power of social media, students from Chippewa Secondary School have brought talking about mental health to the forefront at their school.

“Growing up, we never had the talk where mental health can be normal,” said Grade 11 student Jayda Phillipson. “We realized it’s very important and very common for teenagers to go through these different stages in their lives where they need extra help. So with this month, we wanted to bring more awareness to everything that’s going on and normalize the talk of mental health.”

The group of four planned a month-long series of events, including taking over the school’s Facebook and Instagram pages where they posted everything items such as motivational quotes, signs and symptoms of declining mental health and resources to help their peers.

“Some of the things we’re trying to accomplish is just bringing awareness to our students,” said Grade 11 student Andrea Forster. “Letting them know that here at Chippewa, there’s definitely some good resources that you could look out to. Online there’s a lot of great resources as well.”

The project runs Feb. 1 to March 5.

Hearing from their peers

“I think what’s most important about students directing an event like this is that other students are hearing and seeing from their peers -- not a teacher -- that this is OK to talk about,” said guidance counsellor and Baccalaureate Cast Coordinator Colleen Point. “This is information that maybe I do need and I think they listen differently and they take it to heart differently when it’s coming from their peers.”

Point said she is already seeing a difference.

“I think what I’ve noticed most of all as a guidance counsellor is students more willing to talk,” she said. “They have more language around what they’re feeling, what might be wrong and I think that they’re able to have a leaping off point about strategies that is a little further ahead than where they used to be.”

Although the project was part of a requirement to get the full diploma for the international baccalaureate program, Forster said it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Especially though, like, on social media, I’ve seen a lot of people who are feeling more depressed, more sad about not seeing loved ones, not being able to go socialize, so I think now is the perfect time to mention the topic,” she said.

On top of raising awareness and pointing to resources for their peers, the group also aims to raise $800 for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit at the North Bay Regional Health Centre.

Great resource

“For us personally, we know a few students from Chippewa have gone there for extra resources,” said Phillipson. “We also know that it is very common for teenagers to go there and it’d be a great resource to have a personal interaction with so students know who they’re donating to.”

“All small donations and large donations come together to have a big impact,” said Tammy Morison, president and CEO of the North Bay Regional Health Centre Foundation. “A donation of $800 is extremely generous.”

“Our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit is a six-bed unit that provides specialized mental health services to children and youth in Timiskaming, Parry Sound, Muskoka and Nipissing districts so we see about 130-140 children each and every year. … So this donation’s going to be impactful,” she added.

The total amount hasn’t been tallied yet, but merchandise from Bell Lets Talk Day was also donated to give to students who helped raise money.