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Talk at the top

Students rally in support of peers with mental illness

NORTH Shore high school student leaders gathered at Grouse Mountain last weekend, Feb. 8-9, to brainstorm means of making a difference related to mental illness in their schools.

The initiative, Talk at the Top, was student-led and saw approximately 100 students from 10 different North and West Vancouver high schools come together to show their support for peers who may be struggling.

The youth organizers, calling themselves North Shore Youth For Mental Health, started planning the event more than a year ago based on the belief that more needs to be done regarding mental health and that youths should be leading the conversation.

"We noticed that almost everyone knows someone who suffers from mental health problems, and that many people don't know where they can comfortably turn for help," says Anca Bosnea, a Talk at the Top leader and organizer.

"As well, we noticed many people don't understand mental health problems as they are not physical and not easy to see or notice. We wanted to have this event to help remove the stigma mental health issues carry, and to improve knowledge of mental health issues, as well as find ways to communicate what we know about mental health in our schools," adds Bosnea, a 17year-old Grade 12 student at West Vancouver secondary.

Those in attendance listened to a presentation by Canadian Olympic cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes who is a spokeswoman for Bell Let's Talk, a charitable program dedicated to the promotion and support of mental health across Canada.

Olympic gold medal triathlete Simon Whitfield also addressed those in attendance and took them on a snowshoeing team-building exercise Friday night.

Following the journey, recording artist Suzie McNeil performed and mingled with the students.

The youths reassembled Saturday morning in breakout groups talking about what they could each do in their respective schools to help with mental health.

A representative of Kids Help Phone was on hand to offer guidance.

"(We) plan on acting on those ideas within the next few months," says Bosnea, adding she feels the event went very well. Those in attendance were comfortable discussing mental health, whether it was speaking from personal experiences, or simply discussing their knowledge of it.

"Participants were definitely inspired to make a change," she says. "Many people asked me how soon we can turn our brainstorms into a reality."

The event organizers plan to host a follow-up meeting soon to discuss where the students are in their initiatives and where to go moving forward.

"I believe this event was the beginning of many mental health discussions and projects, and I know we will change and improve the mental health situation on the North Shore," says Bosnea.

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