My name is Madison and I am now in Grade 6. I am passionate about the topic Youth Mental Health and Addictions because our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Sadly, one in five youth will experience a mental health issue during childhood and adolescence (Canadian Mental Health Association).
As a Change Agent at Shanty Bay public school I was asked to take action on an issue I care about. I realized that it becomes more difficult to reach people once they start experimenting with substances, so I wanted to write a true story about a community member’s journey with drugs and alcohol for students in grades four through eight. I wanted my age group to understand why people often use substances and the connection to mental health issues. In addition to raising awareness and presenting the risks associated with drug and alcohol use, I also wanted to encourage my generation to find like-minded people to feel a sense of belonging and discover healthy pleasures to help during challenging times.
The reason why I wanted to write and illustrate this book is because books are accessible and can share a powerful message. I felt proud that I could give each elementary school in SCDSB my book for their library. I enjoyed presenting my book to my school and invited guest speakers from CHMA (Canadian Mental Health Association) and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to educate my peers about youth mental health and addiction and available services that can help.
I received a lot of support for my project. My teachers and parents helped edit the book, the Rotaract Club donated money to help with the cost of publication, and my art teacher provided direction with my illustrations.
This project has significantly impacted me because I am more aware of how people are suffering with mental health and addiction, as well as ways to deal with challenging feelings. I also have a better understanding of feelings and healthy pleasures.
Over the course of my project I have dealt with many tough challenges. At first, my plan was to interview famous athletes or writers who had experienced mental health and addictions such as Lionel Sanders, Clara Hughes, and Robert Munsch. Unfortunately nobody was able to do it so I had to move on to somebody more accessible and local. After some research I found a community member who actually got treated by my grandfather and her story was really inspiring. I realized that her experience was just as powerful as a well known person and felt grateful that she was brave enough to share her story.
Once I decided to write my story from the main character’s perspective, most days would be spent making endless edits and drafts. I reached out for advice from many teachers and relatives until we saw no mistakes. While edits were being made, I started working on the illustrations. I had originally planned to have a local artist draw the pictures, but we decided it would be best if I trust my abilities and draw how I saw through the eyes of the main character. Fortunately, my art teacher volunteered many hours to help me refine my pictures and choose the mediums for the effect I was looking for.
The next phase of my project was to find a publisher and to raise funds to pay for the books. A grant from the SCDSB provided some help for publishing costs and I managed to raise some money on Go Fund Me. However, I still did not have enough money to publish 100 books. Thankfully, when I was sitting in on a meeting with the Fundraising Coordinator at RVH discussing my sister’s Change Agent project, the Fundraising Coordinator suggested approaching a Rotaract Club in Barrie. This Rotaract club generously donated $1,000 towards publishing.
Overall, I am proud of my project. l published 100 copies that will hopefully make a difference in how youth think. I have also raised awareness through various presentations. I have spoken to Rotaract, the media, RVH, teachers and students. We also were interviewed by many newspapers and radio stations.I even got onto CBC Ontario Mornings in May where I had the opportunity to share my initiative to all of Ontario. I also made many community partners by practicing my public speaking and writing skills. Over the course of my project I learned ways to create change and to believe in myself and push through my fears.
Co-creating a space where people feel that they can speak out in spite of their fears is a vital step in the process of learning how to become a changemaker. Empathy researcher Brene Brown explains that being empathetic requires that we be present and wholly engaged without our ‘protective armour’. People wear armour to try to become invisible or fit in with others to hide what they consider to be defects or embarrassing qualities for fear of being judged, labeled, or bullied. It is difficult to feel empathy for others when you are cut off from yourself.
For this reason, we’re starting the change closest to home. Everyone in the changemaking process needs to feel valued, seen, and heard. Because of the culture we inherited and the way our brains work, all of us carry biases. This isn’t wrong or bad, it’s what we do with them that matters. Being humbled can lead to personal transformation.
The exercises below will help you to:
Once the principles of the safe space have been defined and agreed upon by all, they can be used, reinforced, and referred back to as needed throughout the time you share together.
Design Thinking & the Deskless Classroom(Exercise, Time will vary)
Create a Classroom Contract(30-45 minutes)
Learn how to listen: Are you a good listener? (video 5 min + opportunities for deeper thinking)
Empathy & Equity: From the Stanford D.school, this exercise gives designers to an opportunity to pause and notice their biases(15 min daily over the course of week).
Cross the Line: (30-60 min.) We live in a diverse world. In this exercise we will explore the diversity among us by thinking about our values, our backgrounds, our teachers, and our experiences.
CCDI: Explore Power and Privilege (Toolkit with various exercises)