“The bell had just rung. Students expressed their gratitude as they trickled into the bustling hallway.
I had just finished my seventh presentation of the day at a junior high school. As I began to gather my things, the five words I’ve become accustomed to hearing echoed in the empty classroom:
“Can I talk to you?”
I looked up to see an eighth-grade student clutching her textbook like a life raft. Her teary eyes met mine.
“Of course,” I replied, and relief washed over her face.
She took a deep breath and started telling me how she had been struggling lately and how overwhelmed and alone she felt. She said she didn’t know who to reach out to, but after my presentation, she felt like I would be a safe person to talk to.
As a Mental Health Facilitator for CMHA Calgary’s Community Education and Wellness team, I see the powerful impact our YouthSMART (Youth Supporting Mental Health and Resiliency Together) education program has every day.
YouthSMART is a program that equips students with knowledge and skills to aid them on their own mental wellness journeys—and to help them support others.
Every year, our YouthSMART program is delivered to over 25,000 students in Calgary and the surrounding areas in over 500 learning sessions.
It is a program that I wish had been around when I was growing up.
If it had, I am confident that I would have been better equipped to deal with the struggles I faced in my youth, and I would have been less fearful to reach out for support.
I saw so much of myself in this student who wanted to talk—a young girl feeling like she might buckle under the burden she was carrying, but feeling like she had to mask it so no one would think that she ‘couldn’t handle it’.
With great empathy, I listened to the student as she gave voice to the pressures and emotions she was feeling overwhelmed by. After she had shared, we brainstormed who she felt comfortable connecting with, and we walked to the school counsellor’s office together.
A few weeks later, I was back at the same school and I felt a tap on my shoulder as I walked between classrooms. It was the same girl, but this time, her eyes met mine with a sparkle of hope.
“I don’t know how to thank you.”
She recounted how that first conversation we had was the beginning of her being able to open up and get the support she needed.
My interaction with that student was yet another reminder of why I do what I do every day…to strive to be the person I needed when I was younger. Someone who can make others feel a little less alone, and remind them that they don’t have to struggle in silence. Someone who uses their life experience, training, and empathy to ignite hope in those who feel lost. Someone who empowers others to reach out, speak their truth, and ask for help. Someone who encourages others to embrace the strength in vulnerability.
She was not the first student to reach out for help after a presentation, nor would she be the last, but the memory of this interaction is a vivid one for me.
Our program is often one of the first exposures students have to age-specific mental health and preventative education, and the importance of creating an empowering environment for youth to learn, ask questions, and share their own experiences without judgement is critical.
From my own experience and the overwhelmingly positive feedback we receive, it is clear that YouthSMART is making a difference for youth in our community.
I urge you to consider helping us expand the reach of YouthSMART by becoming a monthly donor with CMHA Calgary.
Your generosity is needed now more than ever as the demand for our programming is even greater with mental health concerns on the rise, especially in youth.
With the help of generous people like you, we can continue to pursue our mission of educating and empowering the next generation on their mental wellness journeys.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for partnering with us to support youth mental health.”
CMHA Calgary Mental Health Facilitator
Learn more about CMHA Calgary’s YouthSMART programs at www.youthsmart.ca.