Sometimes the best things come in the most unexpected ways. This phrase has been running through my mind constantly throughout the past week; from feeling the passion run like electricity through the air as I watch the conference begin, to sitting knee to knee over a far too small table in a Mexican restaurant with twenty some other amazing individuals.
Last week I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2015 IAYMH conference in Montreal. To say I was skeptical about the whole ordeal before hand was an understatement – from the moment I submitted my bursary application to the moment I first stepped into the venue the conference was being held, I didn’t know if I could do it. I can now say with absolute certainty that this experience was one of the most amazing I’ve ever had – it allowed me to not only grow as a person, but also taught me so much about the world around me and also gave me SO much hope for the future seeing other incredible and motivated young people around me.
There are a few key issues and ideas that really struck me throughout this conference, these include…
1) Intersectionality No issue is ever as simple as it seems. One quote that really struck me during this conference was “I am not the problem. I HAVE the problem.” Just like a mental illness is only one part of your story, so is your gender, your sexual orientation, your socioeconomic status, your heritage. Why do we seem to have this “one size fits all” approach? Or better yet, why are seemingly all mental health services catered to the white middle class? These services need to stop treating people based solely on the mental illness they are struggling with, but rather understand what treatment plan best supports a person struggling with _______ , coming from a ________ socioeconomic status family with _______ background who identifies with _______ gender and _______ sexual orientation. An individual is made up of so many different puzzle pieces, so many different elements; so why do most treatment plans seem to focus mostly on the mental health issue a person may be struggling with, but fails to really see and understand the role other elements of that person may contribute to their mental health?
2) Accessibility I was fortunate enough to have been accepted for a bursary, meaning that the costs associated to this conference were merely travel and food for me. Had I not gotten this bursary, there is absolutely no way I would have been able to go to this conference. The price for this conference was upwards of $400, and that was only for the conference; it didn’t include travel, food or accommodations. While this was an exceptional learning opportunity, the only people that really could have attended this conference were those that either had received a bursary like myself, been sponsored by an organization to go, bankrupted themselves to be there (shoutout to my main man Dexter), or had the very fortunate and rare funds to pay for themselves. Basically, those that most needed to be there, vulnerable groups like uneducated youth and those struggling with their own mental health, etc., were unable to be there due to the cost. And while this conference was absolutely worth it, it contributed to the ever growing divide between the groups that need these kinds of support the most, and then those that can actually afford it.
Another example of the lack of accessibility many mental health services have was illustrated to me a few months ago. I decided to do a little research and see what kinds of mental health supports and resources Kingston has, and how accessible they are to the average person. The few supports I could find that were free and accessible to everyone were completely overrun, and their waitlists were a mile long. I experienced this firsthand last spring when my mental state became very delicate, and I needed immediate care. I was told by my counsellors at school that the only thing they could do at the moment to get me more care was to put me onto waitlists to get me into different streams of support, such as child psychology at the local hospital. I was then informed that it would take upwards of three months for me to get any kind of support other than what I was currently getting with those at school, and that it would therefore be best for me to go directly to the emergency room in times of crisis in order to get immediate, urgent care rather than wait.
Your socioeconomic status should not dictate the quality of care you receive. Yet this seems to happen time and time again.
The average cost of a single hour session with a therapist is around $150. While many insurance plans cover maybe four or five of these sessions, we all know that mental illness does not just stick around long enough to be convenient for your parents insurance plan. Mental illness is a lifelong struggle, and guilt or worry over paying for the care you need to get through the day should not be a reality for anyone. Yet it is for many people.
The question is now, how can we change this? How do we engineer a mental health care system that is not only accessible to everyone, but also takes into account each individual case, and does not strive for efficiency, but rather results?
3) Youth Outreach
Glancing around me at the overcrowded and claustrophobic table at the Indian restaurant we were eating at, I realized I was by far the youngest person there. Despite the fact that the keyword of this conference was youth, it seemed slightly ironic that those that were actually youth (under 25) only made up approximately 20% of the total attendees. While this is not to say that this ratio of youth to others at these kinds of conferences has not drastically improved in the last few years, there is still much work to be done. I’m almost sure I was one of the few people there that came purely because they were interested in the mental health field rather than because they were already tied to a mental health organization.
Another huge part of youth outreach is again a lack of recognizing diversity. At the opening ceremony there was a kind of role call done to see where people came from around the world. While there were many people from Europle, Canada, USA, Australia, and even a kid from the Arctic, there was NO ONE from Africa or Asia. THAT IS AWFUL. Is it because people in those parts of the world mysteriously don’t struggle with mental health at all? I have no idea why there was so little non-western representation at the conference, but that clearly needs to change in coming years.
Another critical point to make is that while anxiety and depression were talked about extensively at the conference, very little was said about the “scarier” parts of mental health, such as disorders that deal with psychosis. Not to mention, as stated above when speaking about intersectionality, very little was stated or mentioned about mental health concerns arising from a person identifying as LGBTQ. There was little representation of these groups, and so going forward that is another very important point to work on.
I fear that I have ranted enough for one post, and so would like to conclude by simply stating a MASSIVE thank you to all the wonderful souls I had the opportunity to meet this past week, especially those directly involved in organizing the conference. I experienced so much hope this past week seeing you all work towards a better future with your passion and dedication, with your complete acceptance and honesty. Words cannot express how truly humbled I am to have met all of you fine people including but not limited to Henry, Aiden, Hannah, Alicia, Taylor, FJ, Zac, Dexter, Aladdin, Mona, Jonathan, Michelle, Nancy and many others that are very dear to my heart but whose names I have forgotten because one of my many faults includes not being able to remember names.