Youth Helping Youth – Peer Support School

The Cause

Studies show that between 15 – 25% of Canadian children and youth are experiencing significant mental health issues. More than 50% of mental illnesses surface before the age of 14. Unfortunately, most children will not receive treatment for mental health difficulties. This can be due to the social stigma associated with mental health, or because of problems with access and availability of resources. CMHA has an innovative two pronged idea to address this.

1 - We are committed to quality, and we are passionate about recovery. Our emphasis is on empowerment – creating an environment for youth to access the skills, tools and knowledge to improve their quality of life and to live a life with purpose. Peer support workers are valued for their authenticity, diversity and credibility. Coming from a “been there, done that” perspective, peer support workers are uniquely equipped to provide support and understanding to someone through shared knowledge and experiences. As such, CMHA will train 2-4 youths through our extensive Peer Support School so they can safely and effectively support the recovery journey of our vulnerable youth. They will also receive continuous mentorship and support along their education and training program.

2 - We plan to design, develop and implement a youth peer support engagement program by exploring new and meaningful opportunities to create powerful youth-led programming by individuals living with an addiction or mental health concern – a program designed by peers, for peers. This approach allows for significantly more meaningful and authentic youth involvement in program design, leading to better outcomes. CMHA will approach youth as valuable peer contributors actively involved in the programming and opportunities that directly impact their wellness. CMHA believes there is a need to take the program into the community and ensure that geography, culture and transit do not limit accessibility for those in need. The program will be delivered across the quadrants of the city and peers trained through our peer school will design and deliver this new programming.

By taking our peer support model and developing a youth component, we can ensure better and earlier engagement, where advanced peer-led programs are available for youth, and where youth inspired to help others, can obtain the skills for meaningful employment and provide services so that there will always be someone to greet and offer support to youth seeking support.

Who Will it Benefit?

CMHA is recovery-focused organization – our programs and services are designed to empower individuals with the tools & resources to live a meaningful life, despite their illness/condition. We believe the focus of our programs & services should be less about an individual’s diagnosis and/or symptoms & focused more on what an individual needs to live independently with a condition. Our peer school has been evaluated to ensure that peers are provided with the right tools, skills & competencies to deliver peer support & that the work they do, provides lasting impact in the community.

This program will specifically target those aged between 16&25 years old & we intend to train 2-4 individuals to learn the skills & tools to support others with their own lived experience through our peer school. Peers will learn 13 competencies of peer support - utilizing research & tools created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Once trained, these individuals will help design a program for youth & co-deliver the program with a CMHA staff. We intend to provide timely, appropriate & relevant information & strategies for youth living with a mental health and/or addiction concern by creating & embedding youth peer support workers into a workshop designed for youth across all four quadrants of the city as well as provide telephone, email and in-person support to youth seeking supports. With this approach we will serve 400 youth across the city.

Our peer specialists are valued for their authenticity - their lived experience fosters trust. The value of peer support is evidenced by a mounting body of literature that outlines a number of positive outcomes when an organization/community invests in peer specialists: Increased community involvement by those with an addiction or mental health condition; Improved skills & competencies of peer specialists; Increased awareness & legitimacy of peer specialists; Increased work & volunteer opportunities for peer specialists; Increased client satisfaction with addictions & mental health services that incorporate peer specialists; An ability to serve more people & engage with underserved disconnected populations; A reduction in symptoms; and Less demand on acute care services.

This program will also enable CMHA to provide meaningful training & employment opportunities to 2-4 youth who may find it difficult to find work opportunities due to the current economic situation and the barriers presented by their lived experience.