New website reaches out to young people facing mental-health challenges
Brent Seal was in his first year of university in 2004 when he started feeling overwhelmed by stress. The business student went on to feel excruciatingly paranoid in social situations. Things got worse.
“I started losing track of reality,” Seal says in an interview with the Georgia Straight. “It led to psychosis.”
Ultimately, he tried to kill himself and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Seal, who’s now a peer support worker at F.O.R.C.E. (Families Organized for Recognition and Care Equality) Society for Kids, says he was fortunate to finally get treatment and to have a supportive family and circle of friends by his side. But he says a new online resource for youth struggling with mental-health problems and substance use could have been just the kind of help he needed to get help sooner.
Mindcheck.ca also has the support of the Vancouver Canucks, with Kevin Bieksa being a vocal advocate of reaching out to young people facing mental-health challenges.
“A lot of youth don’t get any support,” says Seal, who graduated from SFU as valedictorian in 2010. “I think there’s a lack of understanding, lack of awareness; people are still afraid to talk openly about mental-health challenges. It’s seen as embarrassing, a shameful thing to talk about. Mindcheck is a safe place for people to get help.
“I’m such a big supporter of this website,” he adds. “Had a friend told me about it, maybe I could have got help a year earlier and avoided what happened, which was a suicide attempt.”
Mindcheck—a Fraser Health initiative that now reaches people throughout B.C. with the support of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA)—aims to help people in their teens and early 20s identify the signs of conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, psychosis, and problem substance use through self-assessment quizzes. It then points them in the direction of help, resources, and support.
“We know that mental-health and substance-use problems are the primary health concern for young people, and more than half of those who need help are not getting the help that they need,” says Karen Tee, manager of Fraser Health’s child, youth, and young adult mental-health and substance-use services. “Youth and young adults go to the Internet first before picking up books on mental-health and substance-use problems or going to a counsellor.
“Our goal was to help young people find intervention earlier by giving them interesting and nonstigmatizing content about mental-health and substance-use issues in a way that can help them learn the signs and symptoms, seek help, and hopefully prevent emerging problems from getting worse.”
According to Mindcheck, 75 percent of all mental-health conditions begin by age 24. One in five youth and young adults in B.C. experiences distressing feelings and thoughts that cause problems with school, work, family, and friendships. However, symptoms or behaviours are often mislabelled as being just a phase or part of someone’s personality.
Canucks defenceman Bieksa appears on the Mindcheck site in a video about his late friend Rick Rypien.
“I’m the friend of somebody who experienced depression,” Bieksa says in the Mindcheck pledge to support mental health. “I know it isn’t a choice. It’s not a weakness, self-inflicted, or a result of not trying. Sometimes you just can’t get over it. It won’t just go away. Pretending it isn’t happening doesn’t help. Talking about it does. I pledge to learn the signs. I will not judge. I will have compassion. I will reach out, listen, talk, help, and find help. My name is Kevin Bieksa, and I will not stay silent.”
Connie Coniglio, executive director for children and women’s mental-health and substance-use programs with the PHSA, says that having the support of the Canucks has helped boost awareness of mental illness, and Mindcheck, significantly.
“The hockey crowd is a very diverse group of people, and it includes men, which is a big target audience,” Coniglio tells the Georgia Straight. “They’re not the easiest to reach around health issues in general, and mental health is no different. We wanted to reach both men and women of the youth and young-adult population.
“We’re talking about young adults aged 17 to 25, who are often hard to reach with mental-health messages. They might not be in university or college; they’re people who are out in community and away from some of the places where structured opportunities to give those messages exist.”
Mindcheck is clearly resonating with people. Coniglio says that there were more than 58,000 unique visitors from 98 countries between January 24 and March 16 of this year alone. Plus, 28,000 self-assessments have been completed.
The year ahead will see new features added to the site as well as the development of related mobile apps.
“Obviously, people are interested enough and concerned and curious enough about their mental health that they’re using the site,” Coniglio says. “The Canucks are keeping it on people’s radar screens and have really opened up the dialogue. It’s become a bit of an antistigma campaign.”