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Earlier this year we reached out across the ACCESS Open Minds network to ask for nominations of folks who should be highlighted for the work they do through the network. We asked those who were nominated to share why they work in youth mental health or what drives them to be a part of the ACCESS OM network. These are their stories, and some of the faces of ACCESS Open Minds.

Alex Luby

Being part of the ACCESS OM network has, and continues to be, such a positive experience. I am inspired every day by our youth and motivated by my colleagues both locally and across the country who are dedicated to transforming youth mental health services. Being part of the ACCESS OM network means being a part of something bigger than yourself. I get to be part of a team that supports one another, and continues to grow, challenge preconceived ideas of how things “should be,” and gives 110% to their work. Being part of this network has also provided me many opportunities to learn new things and connect to like-minded people around the globe. It is a reminder that I am not alone, and that there are people everywhere who want to make the world a better place!

Aaron Horvath

The major driving force behind my passion to work in youth mental health is breaking down the barriers like stigma and providing early intervention. With so many new and complex stressors in today’s world, I feel that youth are especially vulnerable. Research shows that most mental illnesses begin in childhood and adolescence, meaning that the early years are especially important for mental health. I am a firm believer that early intervention can have a lasting impact on the lives of people affected by mental illness.

It is a privilege to be apart of the ACCESS Open Minds network in working towards transforming the way youth receive mental health care. I feel a sense of pride in being part of this trailblazing initiative across Canada that has helped provide rapid access and readily available services to youth. Having the opportunity to prevent mental illness or lessen its impacts over a person’s lifetime is important to myself and our team here at ACCESS OM Chatham-Kent.

Markie Babkrik

Let’s be honest, being a youth is hard and reaching out for help can be even harder. If I can help make the experience of seeking support easier on a youth or family then I am doing my job well! I think it is important to learn skills to get through the hard and stressful times early because we carry these skills with us through our entire lives. We are so lucky to have AOM in our community.

What a great team to be part of! We are changing how youth mental health services are being delivered and I watch and hear how helpful a program such as this has been to our community every day from youth, caregivers and community partners. It is rewarding to be part of a team that can offer these types of services to youth and family in our community.

Stephanie Leveille

To be a part of the AOM network is like being a part of the most elite team of passionate people who come together each day, because they care about the lives of our young people. It’s not work to me, it is a privilege that I am given to pour into the youth of Chatham Kent. Working with them, their families and our Interdisciplinary team, while they navigate a tricky system. There is an endless supply of resourceful people there to help, a team that extends far beyond Chatham Kent.

Janice Kirkwood

I feel the potential for those struggling and goals for youth can be met much sooner, if someone is open to allowing support and seeking help, so that they do not have to suffer for years into adulthood to struggle with stabilizing their symptoms and concerns. I hope that by engaging youth in their own goals and working on what concerns they have, they are getting a positive experience that will encourage them to seek further mental health/addiction support in the future if they were in need.

[What I find most rewarding working in this field is] when I can see positive change and watch someone maintain recovery, and have positive supports in their families or community supports to feel they are not alone in their journey. When there is a shift in perspective, both, from families and/or clients, and you can see they know there is more to life than just their illness or that underneath their substance use, that is rewarding. I am always humbled by those who are willing to share their recovery stories and their journey in recovery, seeing the strength in many who have endeavour to get to a healthy place, but having to confront some very personal and often negative emotions to get to there.

Rebecca Smyth

The youth and families that don’t know where to turn to are what drive me to work in mental health. Growing up I had many close relatives who have a mental illness and I saw how important community support is for mental wellness.

Being a part of the ACCESS OM network has inspired and motivated me to think outside of the box and deliver better care that makes sense for youth and their families. Seeing how far ACCESS OM has come over the past years and how much recognition the network has gained across the world, is a true testament to the transformational work happening in our own backyard. I am privileged and honoured to be a part of the ACCESS OM network.

Rebecca Flanagan

The opportunity to be a part of such an innovative, positive, collaborative network has been wonderful. The transitions we've seen in the way youth mental health is being managed from a services point of view is very promising in terms of best outcomes. Seeing the youth respond so positively to the peer connection AOM offers as well as the single session and more traditional therapy models is so rewarding. To know the network is offering a new and innovative model for youth to thrive in, shows promise that this model will be widely accepted across the country.

Paula Reaume-Zimmer

Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed amazing recoveries from MH&A, and I’ve also witnessed tragic and unnecessary loss, and relapse. It’s important to become involved as early as possible in an individuals mental health journey, validating their distress, conveying our genuine care and concern, and establishing ourselves as trustworthy partners, to ensure youth are receiving the support and treatment they require to maintain their mental wellness.

In the AOM Network, we are surrounded by champions with the same values and beliefs for Mental Health recovery as I have. The momentum and focus around Youth Mental Health is long overdue, and the synergy and opportunity that AOM is creating, makes me proud to be a mental health leader. I am more hopeful than ever for the youth, and their families’ mental health care, and I know that we have an army of mental health providers and partner who share my optimism and commitment to this ongoing effort.

Megan Walker

I have always had a passion for mental health and learning more about the connection between mind and body. I think my interest in working with youth comes from fact that mental health problems often begin during adolescence or early adulthood, and help is not always readily available for those seeking services. Having the opportunity to provide support for youth early on, at a time that is accessible to them, is a very rewarding experience.

Having the opportunity to be part of the ACCESS OM network is an amazing feeling. Being a part of something so new and innovative, that gives youth a voice in the services they are receiving, is very gratifying. Being able to work collectively with youth, community partners, and the ACCESS OM team to help transform mental health services is a truly unique experience.

Romeo May

What drives me to work in youth mental health is the fact that it is a huge issue and has not yet been aided. Our future is the you and if we can't help them help themselves then we slowly destroy our future and our faith in humanity and what its supposed to do to guide us when we need help. All it takes is 1 person to be there for someone and that alone will make a difference and change the mental state of a person(s).

What it means to me to be part of the ACCESS OM Network is the fact that I have the chance to address and here how we can work together and change mental health. It's being able to given the opportunity to help find solutions for people who don't know what to do or who to turn to as well as be a strong role model and leader for those who need a peer to look up to and see that they're not alone.

*Romeo is also a member of the National Youth Council

Dr Amal Abdel-Baki

I have a deepfelt belief in our youth. In the strength, resilience, tenacity and perseverance of young people, in their creativity and openness, and in their desire to build a better life for themselves and contribute to society and the world in which we live, both now and in the future. For some, mental illness and other difficult life circumstances can give rise to major psychological distress. But with the proper care, readily accessible and tailored to their needs, young people can thrive in whatever life trajectory they choose. I hope to help them open doors and fulfil their dreams of a better world. Doing so gives me a sense of pride.

Diane Aubin

I first became involved with ACCESS OM because I felt there was an urgent need to transform youth mental health services. That transformation could only be achieved by acting as partners and recognizing our respective areas of expertise. I became involved with ACCESS OM because, as a psychologist, I see young people and their loved ones as allies and true partners; because each person's distress is unique and deserves attention; because I’m convinced that urgent action is needed and that the entire community stands to benefit from such a transformation; and because research and field experience have long shown that the quality of listening and reception is key to effective mental health care. A true transformation of services can exert a positive impact on all levels. It is an individual and collective responsibility we can no longer neglect. It is vital that we act together now to secure a better future for our youth. We have everything to gain from doing so.

Marie-Ève Dupont

First, as someone who has spent time with youth from different horizons over a period of several years, I’m inspired and energized by their strengths, resilience and creativity, and their ability to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the negative impacts that the stigma surrounding mental health problems and the lack of information and access to services can have on the quality of life of youth. Also concerning is the crucial absence of an adapted response to emerging youth mental health problems and their aggravation during this formative period in human development. Yet the answers and means put in place can make a significant difference. I’ve observed, often with a feeling of powerlessness, the consequences of structural, systemic, ideological and personal obstacles that hinder access to mental health care and services. I’ve also seen first-hand how important it is to foster a dialogue on youth mental health from a wholistic perspective and to normalize mental health issues by emphasizing that they can affect anyone. No less important is talking about these difficulties and providing access to timely care. Including youth in decisions that concern them and supporting them, at their own pace, in a spirit of non-judgment, influenced me to invest in the youth mental health community, because I observed the benefits of doing so early on in my career. Thanks to them, I can see and better understand how these efforts can make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Bernadette Bernard

What drives me to work in youth mental health is growing up in a first nation community all my life, I have seen it all from the poverty, intergenerational trauma, deaths, high amounts of suicide; a lot in which in the past few years have been my peers. All this has allowed me to want to work harder and to do more for my community. My mother began working in the mental health field since I was a year old, so I guess you could say that I’ve been a part of Eskasoni mental health all my life, and it’s because I’ve seen many people walk through the doors to access services and also myself have accessed services as a child and also as a youth, it has lead me to the field I am currently in. Seeing the difference that mental health services has on not only my life but also for all the children, youth and families in my community allows me to work harder and appreciate the roll I have. I love being a Mi’kmaq behavioural interventionist within my community especially that I speak and understand our language. Knowing that these children and youth can speak our language to me during sessions, to be able to tell their stories and express their emotions gives me so much joy and make me want to strive even more. So to answer your question short and simple, what drives me to work in youth mental health is my community and people; and the hope I have for it.

*Bernadette is also a member of the National Youth Council

Eskasoni Youth Crew

We believe that by acting as positive role models we can inspire the youth to become the best versions of themselves, as well as becoming a trusted support in their lives. We're reassuring our youth that we'll always be available whenever they need us, and we pride ourselves on providing the youth and our community a safe and supportive environment here at the Youth Space. Over half of Eskasoni's population is made up of indigenous youth -- and when we bear in mind that suicide is the second leading cause of death in the country and that indigenous youth are anywhere between five to eight times more likely to commit suicide than their non-indigenous peers, it becomes that much more important for us to become that first step in suicide prevention and/or intervention. We love what we do here at the ACCESS Youth Space because not only is it for our youth, it's for our community -- and we are aiming to create a long-lasting positive impact on all lives. While it may not seem like much in the beginning, beyond the surface we are providing more than fun activities. We are providing support, encouragement, security and safety, trust, early identification and intervention and more.

We feel ecstatic and proud to be part of ACCESS Open Minds, as it's given all of us the opportunity to feel like we've become an important asset in our community through training and community interaction. Since we've opened our space we've been able to develop good rapport with our community, and we feel like we've exceeded expectations for those looking to receive mental health services as wait times are significantly shorter (approximately two weeks) than off-reserve. Just knowing that we are part of a bigger, beautiful picture that aims to end stigma and to build better mental health support is incredible.

Tess Carrigan

When I began working with the Eskasoni ACCESS OM site, I had no idea that I was about to become part of a project so close to what I value. I have always had a passion to work in the field of mental health and to be able to work with Youth was exactly what I wanted. I have watched the Youth Space grow to be the heart of Eskasoni for the Youth in the community. Providing fast, accessible, and appropriate care is rewarding in the sense that you know you are not leaving youth in the dark during some of their most difficult times. I feel that the ACCESS Youth Space in Eskasoni is a place where everyone feels connected and I feel that being a part of ACCESS has allowed me to be a part of a new family. I am so grateful for everything that it has brought to Eskasoni and as a clinician I am so grateful that I can practice Social Work through such a supportive project.

*Tess is also a member of the National Youth Council

Emmanuelle Bolduc

First, as someone who has spent time with youth from different horizons over a period of several years, I’m inspired and energized by their strengths, resilience and creativity, and their ability to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the negative impacts that the stigma surrounding mental health problems and the lack of information and access to services can have on the quality of life of youth. Also concerning is the crucial absence of an adapted response to emerging youth mental health problems and their aggravation during this formative period in human development. Yet the answers and means put in place can make a significant difference. I’ve observed, often with a feeling of powerlessness, the consequences of structural, systemic, ideological and personal obstacles that hinder access to mental health care and services. I’ve also seen first-hand how important it is to foster a dialogue on youth mental health from a wholistic perspective and to normalize mental health issues by emphasizing that they can affect anyone. No less important is talking about these difficulties and providing access to timely care. Including youth in decisions that concern them and supporting them, at their own pace, in a spirit of non-judgment, influenced me to invest in the youth mental health community, because I observed the benefits of doing so early on in my career. Thanks to them, I can see and better understand how these efforts can make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Louis-Vincent Rail

The cause of youth is one that’s been close to my heart since my studies in social work/ intervention. It is vital that youth be given the chance to interact with adults who can understand and support them through this formative period in their development. I was fortunate enough to have significant adults around me during that period of my life, and I’m grateful to have received their support at the most difficult times. ACCESS OM’s approach to mental health – viewing it in the broadest possible sense, stretching the definition of youth to include people aged 18 to 25, and making services accessible and youth-friendly – has shaped the way I work with young people.

Joining the ACCESS OM network means being part of a growing community of caregivers who believe in a broader vision of mental health and in the importance of changing the way services are delivered to youth in a society that values performance over human beings. ACCESS OM, as a care-based network geared to youth, is the path forward for our society in the immediate future.

Chantelle Mireault

I feel privileged to collaborate with hard working, passionate people from across the country. I learn new things every day! Learning and working with passionate people keeps me motivated. We're striving to improve access to quality youth mental health services, with youth and family as key partners. This is what makes us different from other projects and other jobs. Our mission drives me to help change the system for the better!

Chloé Guinaudie

Mental health problems are some of humanity’s most profound invisible illnesses, too often forgotten and overlooked. When I was a teenager, mental health was so rarely talked of, yet so many individuals were suffering from these unlabelled problems. They didn’t know what to call them, let alone where to go to get help. Although mental health requires attention at all ages, I learnt very early on that most mental health problems arise during adolescence, making youth mental health prevention that much more important. I am so grateful to be contributing to the shift currently taking place in the youth mental health field. It is through efforts made by projects like ACCESS Open Minds and similar initiatives around the globe that youth in need will have access to the care, services and tools they deserve.

Géraldine Étienne

What drives me to work in youth mental health is my understanding of how mental health issues can dramatically change the lives of young people as well as the lives of their family members and friends. I know people who did not have access to mental health services when they were younger, but I also know people who did. By comparing the pathway of those who had access to mental health services and those who did not, I strongly believe that those services can make a whole difference in one’s life.

On the one hand, youth mental health services can provide the appropriate care to those who need it, and on the other hand, these services give a message of hope. I strongly believe that those services can help youth to develop a flourishing life. Research in the field of youth mental health can make everyone – including the government – understand the benefits of accessing appropriate mental health services. So this is what being part of the ACCESS OM network means to me: to contribute in the dissemination of this message of hope.

Kathleen Charlebois

Working at ACCESS Open Minds has been an opportunity for me to apply my skills qualitative research towards providing a deeper understanding of how services are implemented and transformed across AOM sites. ACCESS Open Minds is a major initiative that dares to push the boundaries between research, service transformation in youth mental health and stakeholder engagement. It is thus forging new ground in what encompasses service transformation, not just in youth mental health, but it other areas as well. For me, it has been an enriching experience to work with youth and family council members on the photovoice project. I have learned so much through working with them, whether it be photovoice or other AOM initiatives. Finally, working at ACCESS Open Minds has also given me the opportunity to develop new skills along with refining my skills in qualitative research given the scale of the AOM project.

Stephanie Schami

As a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and colleague, I witness every day the importance of supporting the mental health of those near and dear to me. I have always approached health from a holistic perspective, and mental health is a key part of that.

Working with ACCESS OM since the doors opened at Central office in the fall of 2013, it has been rewarding to be a part of something this important since the beginning, to witness the networks ups and downs, challenges and successes. I count myself fortunate to be a part of this network.

Valérie Noel

What drives me is my awareness of the life changing consequences of untreated mental illness: unemployment, poverty, poor physical health, poor overall functioning, isolation, and early mortality. This unconscionable loss of life is what drives me to work in youth mental health. Between adolescence and early adulthood is a sensitive period where we can implement prevention and early intervention efforts. I want to do everything I can to prevent people from entering this life trajectory.

Being part of the ACCESS OM network means working with a diverse group of people with a shared vision to improve youth’s access to mental health services. I get to work with people who are action oriented. I am part of group that does not just say ‘access to services is a critical issue’, the members are all doing something to improve it. What is really cool is that everyone is contributing something different. They support the mission from multiple angles, whether it is research, clinical practice, or advocacy – it is what makes the network strong and cohesive.

Feodor Poukhovski - Sheremetyev

I am driven to work in youth mental health because the current status quo of mental healthcare does not coincide with the realities of how mental illness manifests and is reproduced. My undergraduate research has led me to argue that mental health is as much a social phenomenon as it is an individual experience, and so it is not enough to deal with mental illness on the level of one-on-one treatment. For this reason, I count myself very lucky to be able to work within ACCESS Open Minds, an initiative that tackles mental illness not only by improving access to mental healthcare, but also by working at an institutional level to build communities of resilience and support for youth across Canada.

Jimmy Tan

What excites me about ACCESS Open Minds is our strong relationship building with partner organizations. Within my role in knowledge translation, we have shared the AOM progress among countless regions across Canada. In June/July 2019, I exchanged knowledge with our collaborators in Australia, including Orygen and headspace. Many partners were thrilled to collaborate together on global projects!

It is inspiring to see a global community unite together for youth mental health!

Sara Jalali

My motivation to work in the mental health field stemmed from my interest in understanding the brain and the biological changes that need to occur for conditions such as depression or anxiety. As a neuroscience student, I have learned to look at the individual, solely blaming the underlying molecular and chemical changes for mental ill-health. However, through the ACCESS OM Network, I have gained a better understanding of how the environment and society can negatively impact one's mental health. This has instilled great appreciation for the work that is being done by ACCESS to improve mental health holistically, and motivates me to continue in the mental health field so that I can share my knowledge and perspective within my community.

*Sara is also associated with the University of Alberta site.

Emily Saunders

My past experiences drive me to work in youth mental health- I feel as if they make me better able to understand what a young person is going through when they’re struggling. I’ve had anxiety from a very young age and found communicating how I was feeling difficult, especially when I was younger, due to my limited understanding around mental health and my peers’ limited knowledge and understanding as well. I think that a huge part of youth mental health is education- if there was a bit more knowledge and support surrounding youth mental health, youth and their peers would be better equipped to manage their mental health and support each other.

Being a part of ACCESS Open Minds means a lot to me- it’s incredible to see a project I’m so passionate about making such a huge difference nationwide. I’m honoured that I’ve been able to be a part of this project from its early stages and see the profound impact it’s having! Being apart of ACCESS has also helped me to develop more compassion and understanding, especially surrounding mental illness. It’s also taught me that mental illness is much more common than people assume it is, helped me understand my own mental health a bit more and to understand how important it is to take care of your mental health, even if you do not have a diagnosis. Seeing an initiative that I have worked with for so long be successful, and seeing my local ACCESS site being used regularly is the most incredible feeling. I have loved being able to network with individuals who share the same passions as me as we all work together to make a difference.

*Emily is also associated with the Chatham-Kent site.

Charles-Albert Morin

I have had the chance to access private psychotherapy early because I had the means to pay for it. With excellent care from my psychiatrist and my therapist, I have recovered from both anxiety disorder and bipolar II disorder, the last being considered a severe mental illness.

I wish to apply pressure on our governments so that everybody can benefit from the same care I received. I believe that the ACCESS model is the Ferrari of mental healthcare and it should be implemented all over Canada