Mike Uncorked: The Headstrong Summit Experience

Mike Uncorked: The Headstrong Summit Experience
By Mike Butler

On October 18, 2018, I had the extreme pleasure of emceeing the very first Annapolis Valley Headstrong Summit at Brigadoon Camp. It was a tremendously rewarding experience and I want to share with you the highlights of this special day.

Headstrong is an anti-stigma initiative created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) for youth aged 12-18 to inspire students to “Be Brave, Reach Out, and Speak Up” about mental health. Launched across Canada (and now in Europe), Headstrong is teaching students how to recognize and reduce stigma, and become leaders in their schools.

Brigadoon Camp was host to ten schools from the Annapolis Valley, with student representatives spending the day learning the hows, whys, and whats about mental health stigma, and how to reduce it in their schools. Each group of students participated in many activities and shared stories and experiences, and by the end of the day, they had a plan in place to educate their fellow students and make their schools a safer and more educated environment for those with mental health issues. Watching the students arrive with enthusiasm, participate and listen with intent, and take the time to really embrace the idea of changing their education institutions, was quite inspiring to me. I was fortunate to meet many wonderful students and facilitators who had one goal: to create an in-school Headstrong committee with other interested students (and a staff member’s support), to hold awareness and educational activities for their whole school to reduce stigma.

Students, in small and large groups, came up with ideas ranging from having a safe room at their school for youth to rest, relax, and chat out their issues, to having more accessible educational reading material, appointing a trained student to be the facilitator for in-school events, and much more. It was an incredible time for all at Brigadoon to listen to the ideas and really believe the change was coming for the local schools.

One of the highlights of the day was having two lived-experience speakers come to the summit and share their stories. Lived-experience speakers are an essential part of the Headstrong summit and I was honoured to introduce and share the same space as Candy O’Brien (pictured with me and Middleton student Diana Farris), who works with the Mental Health Association, and Jayce from Laing House in Halifax. Their stories were filled with humour, heartache, struggle, and the real experience of living and working with mental health issues. Between laughter and tears, the entire room of youth and facilitators hung on every word. Also there to speak was Bob Heeney, the national coordinator of Headstrong for the MHCC, and Bob shared the goals and motivations of the Headstrong movement and really helped the students understand how important Headstrong is for their schools.

With Headstrong, young people realize they have the opportunity and ability to create lasting positive change for a more understanding world. This will be one of many more Headstrong summits in our province and the MHCC is on board 100% to make sure all schools have plans in place for their students. The MHCC works to improve the lives of Canadians living with mental illness. The MHCC is a world leader in stigma research and developed Canada’s first national Mental Health Strategy and Youth Mental Health Strategy. You can find out more about the MHCC, including ways you can get on board to assist, by visiting mentalhealthcommission.ca and following the MHCC on social media.

So, I am 39 and feel very strong and confident in my mental health, so what did I take away from this summit? Well, I realized how fortunate I am to have a strong supportive network of friends and family, I understand better the very different worlds of mental health that the youth face today, and I saw firsthand the positive and eager faces of today’s youth, separating themselves from their electronics and having full conversations with each other, relating to their issues and ending the day with a plan of action to make the world a better place. If that doesn’t spell a successful summit, then I don’t know what does. Bravo!