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The future of youth mental health

Two young men stand smiling outside sunnybrook hospital
Sunnybrook's first-ever Youth Advisory Council is amplifying the voices of young people.

Young leaders made history at Sunnybrook in March 2022 when they joined together over Zoom to launch the Hospital’s first Youth Advisory Council.

Comprised of eight youth with the lived experience of navigating mental health and addictions services, the Youth Advisory Council is part of Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project (FNP) – and it was made possible thanks to a leadership investment from the Slaight Family Foundation.

FNP is the first of its kind and the largest navigation program in Canada that improves access to and transition through the health-care system.

An exciting new chapter

“This is an exciting new chapter that will enhance FNP’s support of youth with mental health and addictions concerns,” says Dr. Anthony Levitt, FNP’s medical director.

“The youth voice and experience has always been valued at FNP. Now, through our work with clients and our Youth Engagement Partners, we have created a Youth Advisory Council. We believe this will take our collaboration with youth and the voice of lived experience to the next level.”

Youth Advisory Council member Murad Wancho says he was eager to lend his voice to the initiative, which brings together people between the ages of 16 to 26 from across the Greater Toronto Area.

“Each person can shed a light or new perspective on mental health,” says Murad.

Navigating the health-care system can be difficult for youth and their families – and there is no reason to tough it out alone.

It is often difficult to find the right path when someone is looking for mental health support, but FNP’s role in navigation acts almost like a catalyst, propelling youth in the right direction and expediting the process to find the right person to help,” says Youth Advisory Council member James Fleming.
Adding the voices of youth

As members of the Council, Murad and James will advise on policies and practices to both increase and improve youth engagement at FNP, with the ultimate goal of creating better health outcomes for young people.

Murad and James have worked with FNP in the past as Youth Engagement Partners. FNP also recruited young leaders for the Youth Advisory Council via promotion from agencies that serve marginalized, vulnerable and historically underserved communities.

“It is vital that we meaningfully think about how to create the best environment possible in order to hear the authentic voices of youth,” says Sugy Kodeeswaran, FNP’s executive director.

a group of five adults stand outside sunnybrook hospital
Murad and James with team members of Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project.
James (L) and Murad (R) team members of Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project.
Youth engagement put into action

The Youth Advisory Council is an important element of a broader youth engagement strategy at FNP that is largely funded by the Slaight Family Foundation as part of its $30-million commitment to support mental health services across Canada.

The new strategy will drive FNP’s activities moving forward, with some initiatives already underway such as the Youth Advisory Council and staff training. One recent workshop was led by community partner Egale Youth Services on the equitable inclusion of Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and intersex (2SLGBTQI) people.

Further activities in the coming year will include increased community outreach as well as an overhaul of the program’s evaluation to inject more youth-focused elements. FNP’s strong community partnerships will be key to successfully reaching youth in new and potentially more effective ways.

Paving the way for a new and innovative model

FNP research coordinator Adrienne Young, who oversees the Council, is excited about the year ahead and grateful to the Slaight Family Foundation for making it possible.

Funding from the Slaight Family Foundation has shown the members of the Youth Advisory Council that their knowledge and experience is valuable. This leadership investment is paving the way for a new and innovative model in the mental health space.”

James couldn’t agree more, and is determined to use his voice to help ensure young people are heard loud and clear in the conversation about youth mental health.

“I think it’s important for whomever is involved with the process to hear what the youth is feeling themselves,” says James. “The youth voice is important.”