One of the challenges of seeking mental health treatment is the stigma that goes along with it. This is particularly true among children and youth, that may not know how to seek services and fear judgement of others if they ask.
On the island of Jersey, with a population of just over 100,000, young people face the added difficulty of living in a small community where people tend to know each other, says Mary Bichard, 15, a volunteer with the group Youthful Minds.
“We’re such a small island that gossip travels very quickly,” she says. “I think that can definitely make that stigma a lot worse.”
Youthful Minds, which works with mental health awareness charity Mind Jersey, hopes to reduce that stigma. The group is staffed by volunteers aged 11-25, and aims to raise awareness about mental illness and improve mental health services in Jersey for children and young people.
“The big thing we’re trying to do it is start a conversation with people so that mental health is not such a feared and stigmatised thing and people can kind of discuss it, because it’s the lack of understanding that causes that stigma,” says Bichard.
The group works with primary and secondary schools, to change public attitudes on mental illness and help educate young people on how to seek help. This year they partnered with a local theatre group to create a stage production for secondary schools called “Talking Heads”.
Bichard herself has benefited from that help, and says the organisation has helped her build confidence to both deal with her own issues and help others do the same.
“For me it definitely helps because it’s such a supportive group,” she says. “I’ve been referred onto other services through the people here and learned about things I didn’t know anything about.”
Key to that mission is the RBC-sponsored Race for the Kids fun run, which will take place on Sunday 29 Sept. and provides the bulk of Youthful Minds’ funding. Proceeds from last year’s inaugural Jersey race helped the group to expand its presence through more of the island’s 44 schools. They’re hoping this year to use funds to expand their social media presence, hold “awareness day” events, and distribute branded merchandise such as clothing and badges in order to spread their message.
RBC participates through its funding of the race, and also provides hands-on help, such as putting together “well-being” bags to distribute at schools and health services offices across the island. The bags are filled with items such as stress balls, face masks and colouring books and aimed at under-18 youth and children. The race also helps Youthful Minds gain name recognition, which is key for their awareness campaign.
“The race is definitely a big thing over here,” says Bichard. “So having us being the charity that they’ve chosen helps people get a better understanding about what we do and what we can offer people.”
Last year 700 people participated in the Jersey race, and some £20,000 was raised. All told, the race, which takes place in several cities around the world including London, New York, and Toronto, has raised C$47 million (£28 million) for charities.
“Supporting young people remains a key and integral focus for the bank, whether through charitable initiatives or working with like-minded organisations.” says David Bailey, chief operating officer at RBC Wealth Management. “Our partnership highlights our determination to support and develop the next generation of islanders.”
Youthful Minds’ next step is to continue to build its relationship with the government’s Health and Community Services department to help it make sure mental health care is properly staffed and accessible to young people, says Bichard.
“Although we’re working well with services at the moment we want to try and improve what they offer because a lot of times services can overlook young people’s voices,” she says. “And that’s a big thing we have is we try and make sure that services hear us and what we need.”