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One in three Canadians experience mental health problems every year. In the past, many adults were too nervous to talk about what they were experiencing, but thanks to organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association, the topic is becoming less and less taboo. The CMHA has been working to raise awareness about mental health issues, to emphasize that these issues are treatable, and let individuals know that they do not have to fight alone. At CMHA York and South Simcoe, programs available for adults range from Assertive Community Treatment Teams to Employment Support to Support for Depression – but what about programs for youth?

This year CMHA has decided to focus on youth mental health and mental illness during its annual Mental Health Week – May 6-11. Mental health is just as much an issue for teens as it is for adults, but it often escapes notice or is incorrectly labeled as normal teen behavior. Many teens are also afraid or embarrassed to speak out and ask for help when they are experiencing mental health issues. To combat this, the CMHA has several programs aimed specifically at youth. The York and South Simcoe branch offers a Youth Wellness program geared towards youth in grades 7-12.

Rebecca Shields, CEO explains, “This program reaches youth where they are, schools and in the community. We deliver workshops that make a difference for teens such as Straight talk about Depression, Self-Injury and Suicide and Surviving High School. We are also there when kids are most at risk of suicide, saving lives and supporting parents, teachers and administrators.”

CMHA’s focus on youth for Mental Health Week is helping to de-stigmatize and educate youth about the problems they are facing and the tools and information available to them. CMHA York and South Simcoe are reaching out to youth in a medium teens comprehend better than most adults: social media. In 2012, idig was selected to develop an integrated digital program that would enable the CMHA to raise awareness and to communicate effectively and efficiently. idig developed a digital strategy along with an overarching communications plan and a social media plan for CMHA. idig also developed the CMHA’s website and integrated a blog within the site to draw followers to the site through the effective use of ongoing content and the integration of the corresponding social networks.

“We know we needed to re-think our strategy. Using our new Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel, we are speaking to youth in a language they understand, engaging them and creating communities of support,” states Rebecca. “idig was invaluable in these efforts, stretching our limited dollars and supporting us to launch into a new communications strategy more effectively than we could have thought possible.”

CMHA has committed to a three year strategy to ensure that all youth in York Region and South Simcoe will be prepared to care for their mental health, know where to go for support and have rapid access to services for mental illness. Getting the right communication tools in place is the beginning, because every child deserves to be happy and have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.

For more information about the programs CMHA York and South Simcoe offer, please visit http://www.cmha-yr.on.ca/.