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Engaging youth

Sam Medland
Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project will provide new and enhanced services to help more youth deal with the lasting impact of the pandemic

Thousands of people supported Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project (FNP) in 2020 by joining the first virtual edition of the RBC Race for the Kids, running their own physically distanced races that year. Sam Medland was one of them.

Sam decided to join the race’s fundraising effort because of his own positive experience with FNP during the pandemic. When he took that first step for the race, he was reminded of his own personal journey.

FNP really helps in removing barriers and steps,” says Sam. “I feel as though it would have taken me longer to find support if I hadn’t had FNP there.”
Sam’s journey

When Sam went away to university at age 18, it wasn’t what he expected.

“It seemed like people were loving school. Everyone. All my friends were loving it, and for me, it was a tough time,” says Sam. “I felt like an outsider. I was questioning myself, and when that happens you start thinking you don’t belong.”

He received professional help, and over time developed positive coping skills.

Now 23, Sam is living through the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having an impact on mental health worldwide. Sam connected with FNP for support.

Sam Medland.
Helping youth and families

FNP is a life-changing program funded entirely through philanthropy, with infrastructure support provided by Sunnybrook. This free service pairs youth aged 13 to 26 who have mental health and/or addictions challenges, and their families, with clinically trained navigators who connect them with the services they urgently need. FNP provides support across the Greater Toronto Area.

Typically, parents and caregivers contact FNP looking to support their child or youth, but during the pandemic, more young people are directly reaching out to the program than ever before.

“In 2020, we had nearly twice as many youth call FNP for help,” says Lisa Kuuter, program manager for FNP, which is part of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook. “The pandemic has been especially difficult for young people, who are experiencing a number of stressors. They may have missed milestones such as graduation or prom, or their first year of university has been spent online or in lockdown.”

Reaching out

For Sam, “it got bad enough that I reached out to my mom and said, ‘I’m feeling suicidal again,’” he says.

Sam’s first call with FNP navigator Katie Wicik was a huge help. “It was the first time in a while that I’d spoken to someone about how I was feeling, so I felt an immediate release,” he says.

“The goal,” explains Katie, “is to create a navigation pathway and find resources that are tailored to the uniqueness of each youth and/or family’s needs and circumstances.”

FNP helped Sam find appropriate professional support to help him on his journey. “This progress wouldn’t have happened without FNP,” says Sam.

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