The often hidden issues of mental health and acceptance among the mid-Island's youth were brought out of the shadows and into the light recently as the Centre for Healthy Communities Research and several partner groups presented the Becoming and Belonging Youth Film and Photography Festival at Parksville Community and Convention Centre.
The public forum featured a series of videos and slideshows, narrated by the voices of local youth, covering topics including overcoming the stigma of mental health challenges, addictions, LGBT and gender identity issues, body image, self-harm, anxiety and general well-being.
"This is not something I've really done in front of the public before," said Willow Cabril of Parksville, a student at Ballenas Secondary. "I like being part of it because I think we're bringing these issues to light. And it's nice to see this turnout."
The event arose from a district-based study begun more than a year ago by the CHCR to explore mental health issues faced by youth and to explore ways. The organization found in an earlier study of mental health services in the region that participating high school students were happy with the services they received, but that many were afraid to ask for help to avoid being ostracized or singled out as different, said Dr. Jennifer Mullet, an adjunct professor at VIU.
"There was a theme of not belonging," Mullet said when Becoming and Belonging launched last year. "This isn't a service problem; it's a community problem."
Becoming and Belonging included the partnership of School District 69, Island Health and the Family Resource Association. Representatives from these groups and other social service providers were among the dozens in attendance to watch nine short films produced by students.
Each film and slideshow described problems faced by youth trying to fit into their schools and their communities, but also offered solutions and resources, including contact numbers, emails and websites of organizations set up to help.
Natalie Klassen-Chequer of Bowser, who attends Ballenas, said her biggest challenge was interviewing people as part of her projects.
"I had two videos, collaborating with other students," she said. "It's been a great experience. You learn how to talk to other people, to get out of your comfort zone."
The walls of the conference room were lined with placards bearing images and quotes relating to the topics of the festival. Much of the printed and written material, including the words of the local youth, have been bound into books that were offered for sale during the festival.
Between videos, audience members were encouraged to write down “reflections” on what they’d just seen and heard. The youth participants then collected the comments and placed them on large bulletin board at the front of the room.
Food and refreshment was provided to all attendees, and entertainment was provided by Nanaimo-based hip-hop artist Prince SirReal.
The short films produced by the youth can be viewed on YouTube, by visiting the Centre for Healthy Communities Research channel. For other information or to purchase the printed book, email email@example.com.