If you imagine it, you can achieve it

Saleem HaniffI’m proud to be from Scarborough, and I imagine great things for our city and its youth. Growing up, my father taught me that “knowledge isn’t power until you act on what you know,” and I look forward to the activation of knowledge and potential of our young people being released on our city in the coming years. As a city, if we invest more in our youth now, we will reap larger rewards as a collective later on. But in a society based on immediacy why wait? In the field of youth mental health this is part of our struggle – should we fund preventative or treatment initiatives? I ask however, can you go wrong either way?

In Ontario, 1 in 5 children and youth have a mental health concern. However, just 1 in 6 receives the help they need. That means in every 100 children and youth, only 3 of the 20 that What do you think are the supports that youth need?need mental health support receive it. This is unacceptable. Can you imagine having a broken leg, being in such physical pain that you cannot bear it? But you do not know where to go for help, or if you went for help, you may leave feeling marginalized by society, your friends, and family? Is this not absurd? Yet, it happens on a daily basis to most of our youth who have mental health concerns. Why then, is this acceptable for mental health, but not physical health? I imagine a city that accepts physical and mental health as interconnected parts of one’s overall health and wellbeing. My mother has taught me how a positive outlook on life can have an incredible effect on one’s physical wellbeing, so why aren’t physical and mental health treated the same by our healthcare system?

East Metro Youth Services RISE (Respect In Schools Everywhere) program is a youth led violence prevention and healthy relationships program located in select Toronto high schools. RISE is youth mental health prevention at its best – school based, youth led and consistent. I believe prevention and education at an early age is key to reducing stigma around mental health with our youth. We must invest in mental health supports for our young people to have a healthy vibrant Toronto of the future, and I believe prevention is the key. As citizens of Toronto, we can facilitate hope with our youth by funding and supporting youth programming such as RISE – activating our youth’s potential. Can you imagine a Toronto where all youth have a positive self concept, confidence and sound mental health? I can.

“If you can IMAGINE it, you can achieve it; If you can dream it, you can become it.” – William Arthur Ward

Join the conversation. What do you think are the supports that youth need most? Is it mental health supports? Recreation programs? Employment? Tell us what you think. 

26 thoughts on “If you imagine it, you can achieve it

  1. A few years ago I had the opportunity to be at the launch of the “Bell Let’s Talk” initiative and heard Mary Deacon, CEO at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) share her experiences with losing both her brothers to depression. Although the discussion of mental health issues is moving into the mainstream, there still needs a lot of work to be done in terms of increasing awareness, promoting accessible treatment options and supporting research initiatives within both the marginalized and broader communities. Unfortunately, funding has not been able to keep up with demand and many youth do fall through the cracks leading to further problems in adulthood. Some of the commenter’s above provided some great options for support including opportunities for educational advancement, recreational and social programs, inclusive and creative spaces and access of meaningful employment. A healthy mix encourages confidence, builds leadership and team-building skills and fosters the development of stronger community bonds; which all promote a sense of positive well-being.

    • Muaz, great points raised. I am wondering now about the numbers of new immigrants from war torn areas of the world who may have mental health issues which may be further exacerbated by marginalization, unemployment etc. How do we outreach to these people and, or raise awareness for them to have their voices heard and at minimum receive some compassionate support as they struggle to establish themselves in this city.

  2. As a former member of RISE for multiple years, I can speak for many students when I say this program has brought positivity and most importantly, awareness to our schools in Toronto. This article is another example of this as the figures you have shown are staggering. With 1 in 6 children not receiving the help they need, we cannot achieve the healthy, vibrant Toronto that we are all aiming for. With proper awareness and investment, programs like RISE will help us get there.

    • Mr. Khalifa I’m glad you had such a positive RISE experience and thank you for your comments. You mention investment and awareness. How do you think we can get there? Does awareness alone help create investment from service providers, government and the private sector? Of not how can we achieve this investment we need?

      • My time as a member of RISE really opened my eyes in terms of in school/after school programs. RISE not only focused in one particular school, but often traveled to others to spread the same vital information. By continuing to travel to different schools and educate not only the students, but the faculty included about the significance of the RISE program, you will not only continue to spread awareness, but also potentially attract more investment. I’m not too familiar with the way funding is administered in the TDSB, but all I know is I want my younger brother and sister to be able to be apart of the RISE program just like I have

  3. I find this blog to be passionately written and eye-opening and I’m responding to this blog from the perspective of a secondary school teacher. Yes, I also believe mental health is something that everyone should be aware of. We have students in the school system who may not be receiving the help and/or encouragement they need and as teachers, we need to make sure that our students feel safe, and that our classrooms are inclusive. This means that we need to set the tone in the classroom on the very first day. Diagnostic assessments can help in understanding one’s class, what can work or not work, etc. Teachers should also be receiving up-to-date information and training in this field, of course, within their own capacities. While we do have Professional Development workshops, it’s up to the educators themselves to recognize a student’s discomfort or frustration with something, or even a lack of interest in a particular subject. This does not mean picking on students or singling them out. Rather, we should encourage them to work in groups or to pursue a subject area that is interesting to them and likewise, include that in our assessments. We need to give our youth outlets to encourage leadership and creativity. Programs like RISE are beneficial as they provide students a safe space to talk, receive support, and form lasting friendships. It’s a great preventative program that more schools need to implement. 🙂

    • Ms Qadeer: I agree that schools need to be proactive as they are usually where students’ mental health problems may play out. Lack of preparedness of teachers would lead to inappropriate responses (reactions) that could further stress students into such inappropriate behaviours e.g. violent/aggressive outbursts, then they get labelled, suspended etc – without the appropraite help they need. RISE may fill the void, but all helping professionals need to acquire the appropriate knowledge/skills so as not to fail youths with mental health issues.

      • Yes, exactly, I agree with you. Too often we see students being transferred out of regular schools and attending other schools, having been assigned the “at-risk” label. Instead of dealing with this type of outcome, we need to start at the beginning, before students get marginalized or decide to drop out. Teachers need adequate training that is ongoing and one that consists of new research and engagement strategies.

    • I totally agree, Nailah. I think we need our schools need to engage youth, find a way to give them a leadership role. That’s incredibly important. I’ve seen it firsthand that when a kid (or youth) who have had challenges in school and life come alive when they are given the opportunity to use their voice, becomea leader for change, become a leader period. We need more of that. Encouraging our youth to find their voice, to feel empowered and to make change a reality in their communities, whatever that community is.

  4. Thank you for your post Saleem. I have been following the mental health series that TVO’s Steve Paikin has aired. I don’t think I’ve come across another media outlet that explores the topic with as much thought and respect. Have you seen one of the most recent shows about teenage mental health? I thought it might be relevant to this discussion.

  5. I hope this conversation broadens to beyond those of us who are mental health service providers. As many have said we have to change how people view mental health problems….At Delisle we have deliberately awarded our youth award for Standing Up and Speaking Out to our largest fund raising event so people from all walks of life help to carry this message. Our youth and thier families deperatley need the support at all levels.

    • Good point. I would like to hear from a health professional that does not work directly with mental health per se, to see what their perspective is. Any takers??

  6. Well said! I’ve been in social work 21 years, working with youth at high risk for most of that time and Yes! increased opportunities for recreation, counselling and mental health, vocational supports as well as meaningful education that adaquately addresses social, phychological and mental “health” would greatly reduce the severity and number of mental health concerns among youth! When we are prepared to invest much towards this, a generation of youth will be the “control group” with positive results.

  7. Great words of wisdom Saleem. I feel blessed to have been able to work alongside you for these last few years. Mental health is so much more than a stigma and we need to fight that. Our young people need recreation, positive opportunities to be heard, safe places to feel a sense of belonging, employment and education opportunities in order to better achieve positive mental health. Let’s make it everyone’s business to see to it that these things happen!

  8. As inspiring as they may be, messages such as “Imagine it…” may not resonate with those who can’t help but wonder why they, having dreamed and hoped all their life, have yet to realize their dreams of health, a home, a friend, a job. Is it that they simply failed to “imagine it”, or is there something more fundamental that the message misses, like profound structual and social issues such as poverty, racism, and stigma. I’m all for encouraging words – and I have long been impressed with RISE and EMYS – but our deeds must include efforts to address the social issues that can trigger and complicate problems with mental health. I can’t help but feel we need to dig deeper.

    • Your comments are well received Rick, and I’m glad RISE and EMYS have impressed you! The context of this blog and discussion is about visioning a city that we think would be inclusive and ideal for everyone, this is where the IMAGINE part comes into play. Indeed there are those in our society who have not been able to actualize their ideals, mental health or otherwise. The message is meant to facilitate hope, and to start a discussion that will ‘dig deeper’. So I put it out to you, all of the ism’s that are barriers, stigma etc, how can we overcome them and remove structural inequities and get to a place where mental health service recipients are not stigmatized or marginalized?

      I IMAGINE that there will be some comment on private sector responsibility, and good corporate citizenship being critical to the success of social programming, and I look forward to those discussions, as I believe organizations that operate in our community need to be a part of the community on a larger level. I IMAGINE clear and concise communication between levels of government as well being a key to removing these barriers.

  9. To answer your question I would say that the youth of today need all three levels of the support you mentioned. From my observations and experience they need mental health support but may be not in the same way that causes them to be “labeled for life” because they get stuck on stupid once and a while and commit crimes and anti social things that put them them their families and our society in a state of loss.

    The first thing that putput

  10. I love the closing quote (“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it”). I think that often young people simply don’t know what options are out there for them. It’s hard to imagine something if you don’t know it exists. I think that recreational activities that expose kids to all kinds of opportunities (in the arts, business, technology) help to give them something to imagine for themselves. And once they’re able to imagine it, educational and employment supports can help them achieve it.

    • Agreed Alex! So in your perfect city, what do you think is more important for youth (if you had to choose) education or employment? In the short and long term?

      • I think that without the basis of a solid education, employment opportunities will necessarily be limited. Education opens up a broader range of opportunities… so I think that, while the two go hand-in-hand, a focus on quality education would be a priority in my perfect city.

  11. Of course it’s critical to fund mental health treatment for children and youth so they can succeed in school and life. And fortunately, treatment works for almost everyone who can find it and stick with it. Unfortunately, the shortage of treatment services means that many kids have to wait 5 or 6 months for help – that’s a situation we wouldn’t accept for any kind of physical health problem and it’s one indication of the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health issues have to deal with. The RISE program at East Metro Youth Services, and others like it, are especially valuable and important because they aim to prevent mental health problems BEFORE treatment is needed or the problems become really serious. We need many more prevention programs, and many more efforts to identify kids who are struggling with their mental health so they can get help early, when treatment can be most effective. By learning more about the signs of mental illness we can all play a role in helping our friends and the children in our community. There’s lots of good information at http://www.kidsmentalhealth.ca. Congratulations and thanks to United Way Toronto for supporting so many child and youth mental health services across the city (the list of all accredited children’s mental health services can also be found at http://www.kidsmentalhealth.ca).

    • Mr. Floyd is absolutely correct, and the list of resources is critical. I am interested to hear your thoughts on how we can reduce mental health service wait times.

      Also, what Mr. Floyd does not mention is his tireless advocacy efforts for child and youth mental health in our province. Thank you!

  12. Each One Teach One
    With Groups like RISE in our opportunity, We all take part in allowing everyone to exchange opinions with one another and collectively group our consciousness to create situations where everyone is moving together hand in hand, side by side.

    Really and truly like the first commenter. We MUST love thy neighbour as thyself in order to quit separating and see it all as the oneness it really is.

    Peace and Love

  13. Good article. Mental health services need to be provided in highschool so that by the time students transition to university the have a knowledge of how to help themselves as well as where to get additional help should they need.

  14. Mental health is everyone’s business; not the secret domain of the person impacted nor the ‘helper’. The more we see it as part of the continuum of overall health, the healthier we would be as a society. Remember, labels are for jars, not people. Let’s integrate not isolate – this afterall is good citizenship. Love thy neighbour as …. !!!

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