An innovative new program will ensure that over 1000 Vancouver students will be armed with information and support about mental well-being this year, thanks to their fellow students.
Here4Peers is a youth-driven, mental health awareness initiative, involving teams of specially trained high school students presenting interactive workshops to Grade 7 students.
“Young people often turn to their peers first when they are facing personal challenges. Using trained and supervised ‘peer’ facilitators is an effective way to engage and remove the negative perceptions regarding mental health,” says Here4Peers Program Coordinator Ashely Currie. “Students entering high school often experience stress and anxiety.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (2017), one in three Canadians will experience mental health issues in their lifetime, and 50% of all mental disorders begin by age 14.
These statistics are “too high” according to trained Here4Peers facilitator and Grade 12 student Shyree Hans. “I hope my involvement in the program will provoke more education and support from our school hallways to our communities.”
The 80-minute workshop uses multi-media, interactive games, as well as small and large group discussions, which fits the prescribed learning outcomes for mental wellbeing as part of the BC Ministry of Education Grade 7 Physical and Health Education. The goals are to reduce stigma, increase awareness of mental health issues and coping tools, and improve access to resources.
The youth members of Heer4Peers are not just delivering workshops – they are helping create the content and taking care of the finer details, like choosing a name and creating a logo for their program.
“We are unique because we’re youth talking to youth,” says Steph Barrantes, a Grade 12 Here4Peers facilitator from David Thompson Secondary, who values the power of young people being on the front line of program delivery. “For them, we are what they will become. To see us talking openly about mental health and letting them know that it is okay to talk about, makes a huge difference. We are using our influence to our advantage in the best way possible.”
To date, 70 Here4Peers facilitators, from Vancouver Technical, Killarney, and David Thompson secondary schools, have been trained. They have delivered workshops in 29 Grade 7 classrooms, and have already reached approximately 800 students.
This unique program is funded by the Vancouver Police Foundation, and is provided in partnership with: the Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver School Board, the Canadian Mental Health Association Vancouver – Fraser Branch, Vancouver Coastal Health, and the City of Vancouver.
Heer4Peers will expand to include facilitators from seven high schools in the 2018-2019 school year, delivering the workshop to 2400 students. It will continue to grow to reach all schools by 2022, at which point the Canadian Mental Health Association will take over the care and funding of the program.