Youth Voices: Mental Health



In 2017, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada launched a National Youth Mentoring Advisory Council to ensure that young people are shaping the future of mentoring in Canada.


These young leaders have firsthand experience as mentees and mentors with Big Brothers Big Sisters. They bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to our work and they hope to inspire more of their peers to get involved locally.

For Mental Health Week, National Youth Council members Nicole Mensah, Keyla Ange Keza and Karine Pomila Gauthier share their observations and advice on this critical topic.

In recent years, the discussion on the topic of mental health has become much more prevalent. This is no surprise considering that one in five Canadians deal with or will eventually encounter mental health illnesses (Canadian Mental Health Association).

This statistic only accounts for reported cases of mental illness – many more go unreported, often due to fear of stigmatization. In society, there remains a pervasive assumption that mental illness is connected to being weak or unstable. This is not the case. Mental illness affects everyone regardless of gender identity, cultural background, sexual orientation, ability or age. Discrimination, inequity and intersectional identities further marginalize someone in how they are affected by mental illness and the supports available to them.

“Trying to balance academics, extracurriculars, and a social life while in high school can be quite stressful. I found that using a calendar to plan and exercising to destress has been most effective for me.”
-Nicole Mensah

Teenagers and young adults are affected by poor mental health. According to the Government of Canada, 70% of mental illnesses develop during childhood. These illnesses can become problematic well into adulthood if not addressed early on. In fact, by the time young people reach post-secondary, some have internalized anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia.

According to a national survey of over 1,000 youth, conducted by Big Brothers Big Sisters and other youth organizations, mental health remains a Top 3 priority that young people want the governments to address.

What can we do about this?

Poor mental health is often trivialized on social media through memes. Despite their hilarity, memes are not a healthy way of dealing with mental health issues. Rather, we can use memes to raise awareness and encourage people to seek help.

It is also important to remember that mental health services are often inaccessible and underfunded. Without access to mental health services, people can be left feeling lonely, isolated and hopeless. These feelings can be reinforced when using social media, which often depicts people living their best life. While people are generally aware of social media’s deceptive nature, the pressure to succeed can be difficult to cope with.

Keyla Ange Keza (Surry, British Columbia)
“Through pain and discomfort, our bodies try to communicate with us when something is wrong. I think it’s the same with our mental health. It’s our mind’s way of telling us to pay closer attention. Mental health to me is a window into what my mind and soul need. In tough times, I find that it’s important to disconnect and find solitude in order to pay better attention.”
-Keyla Ange Keza

This Mental Health Week, we encourage everyone to reach out to a friend, a counsellor, or a mentor. We also call on organizations to dedicate more funds to mental health services, through mentoring or otherwise. We all have a role to play in advocating for the issues that matter to us. In fact, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Council tackled the issue of Youth Mental Health through the annual YOUthinOffice initiative in October 2018. We asked questions and shared our thoughts with MPs, Senators, and government leaders.

Healthy minds are just as important as healthy bodies. The more we raise awareness, the easier it will get to talk about our struggles.

Karine Pomilia Gauthier
“In my experience, superficial remedies won’t heal the body or the mind, but having a meaningful mentoring relationship has been instrumental to maintaining good mental health.”
-Karine Pomilia Gauthier

Tips to care for your mental health and wellbeing:
  • Physical: eat healthy meals, drink plenty of water, include physical activity into your daily routine (e.g. walking, stretching, climbing stairs)
  • Cognitive: take a break from technology and engage in mentally stimulating activities (e.g. puzzles, drawing)
  • Emotional: try including “mindfulness minutes” into your day, by meditating and/or calming the mind to become more aware of how you respond to the world around you
  • Social: spend time with people you care about doing things you enjoy, talk to someone you trust, get involved in mentoring to develop trustworthy relationships that will provide support

Get Involved!

Did you know that mentoring improves mental health? When you have a positive role model to talk to and share the experiences of growing up, the result is a life-changing experience.

thumbs-up icon blue
of youth with mentors grow up to believe they make good life choices
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say they’re happy
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have strong social networks


You can make a positive difference in the lives of youth by volunteering or donating today.