HEADSTRONG — How the Mental Health Commission of Canada initiative supports Metis Youth.

HEADSTRONG Metis – celebrating culture, building capacity 

On Saturday October 13th, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) partnered to launch Canada’s first HEADSTRONG Metis youth mental health summit. The MNA work with Metis youth across Alberta to promote knowledge and pride in their unique culture. Tania Kruk, Manager of Youth Programs and Services at MNA, became interested in HEADSTRONG at the Mathison Centre presentation in May 2017 on Indigenous Youth Mental Health that featured HEADSTRONG. She mobilized her team and together they worked closely with MHCC staff to plan and deliver a HEADSTRONG summit tailored for Alberta Metis youth. 

The HEADSTRONG Metis summit took place in Edmonton bringing together 50 youth from communities  around the province. Community leaders, teachers, youth support staff and mentors also attended. The keynote speaker was Brittany Johnson, a PhD student and staff member at U of A, who is also an Indigenous full-spectrum doula and rising singer/songwriter. She shared her compelling, sometimes painful story, of mental health and recovery as a Metis woman. She enhanced her story-telling with original, personal songs that demonstrated her resilience, courage and humour. 

Figure2 Youth learning the Red River Jig with Luc Gauchier, from Calling all Captains

Reoccurring themes throughout the day demonstrated the critical importance of Metis culture and ceremony to support the mental wellness of Metis youth. This includes engagement with Elders, music, dancing, language and crafts, and the opportunity to celebrate their unique population. The Metis youth came up with excellent ways to take home HEADSTRONG’s messages of hope, positive action and stigma reduction. They called for regular opportunities to learn about their Metis culture and talked about inviting lived-experience speakers to share their stories of hope and recovery. They also want to ensure their schools and community leaders provide Metis youth with access to information about mental health, mental illness and available resources. 

The summit culminated in a rousing, 100-mile-an-hour performance from a recently signed Metis band “Calling All Captains”, which reflected the positivity, energy and momentum the day created. 

In the next few weeks MHCC’s research team will provide evaluation results from the event. Until then, the final words go to a parent, also a teacher, who attended the day with her own daughter. As a family, they have been directly impacted by mental illness. The mother said ‘My daughter really needed to hear these stories today, to know that she’s not alone, and that things are going to be OK. And so did I.’

HEADSTRONG is an evidence-based program from Opening Minds, the MHCC’s award-winning anti-stigma initiative. Aimed at youth aged 12 and up, HEADSTRONG is designed to inspire young people to take innovative positive action in their own schools and communities throughout the school year. Through HEADSTRONG, youth reduce stigma, promote mental health awareness and teach their peers, teachers, families and communities that it’s OK to reach out for help. The Barry F. Lorenzetti Foundation is a National Sponsor of HEADSTRONG across Canada, enabling the MHCC to reach more youth in indigenous, rural, isolated, northern, and urban communities, giving them the opportunity to Be Brave, Reach Out and Speak Up!