Grade 8 students at Fredericton's Bliss Carman Middle School took part in their first mental health summit on Tuesday, as part of a provincewide campaign led by the advocacy group Dots NB.
Founder Maureen Bilerman says her organization has spent the past three years lobbying the provincial government for youth-specific treatment facilities, but says engaging the community is just as important.
"We need the government to do their part and improve treatments and services but there's also a shift that needs to take place within youth, family and community," Bilerman said.
"We need to also create positive mental health in schools and in our homes so what I've learned over the past three years is that it's a shared responsibility."
High school student and peer mentor Michael Leger took part in the summit. He says mental health fitness should be taught in classes the same way physical fitness is.
"It's as simple as saying to kids, 'How are you feeling today? Are you happy? Are you sad? Is this natural?' Yes, it is."
NB leading in community engagement, lagging in services
The Healthy Minds Summit included games, guest speakers and various workshops such as tai chi, yoga and poetry.
Bilerman says the sessions covered a wide range of topics, but everything was aimed at finding out what young people need and forming an action plan to improve mental health in the future.
"Their reality is very different than ours," Bilerman said. "And if we wait until they're adults to tell us how to solve this problem ... well, they're no longer in the reality that our youth are in."
The summit is a way to expose students to new ideas, but student Brynne Davies says it's also a way for those who have mental health challenges to begin a conversation.
"When one of the ladies stepped up and was talking about how she struggled with depression, everyone was talking about that, and how brave she was ... they get it."
Bilerman says New Brunswick is still behind the rest of Canada when it comes to government provided services for mental illness.
However she says when it comes to community engagement, she believes the province is a leader.
In his 2013 annual report released two weeks ago, Child and Youth Advocate Norm Bossé called for a change in the way mental health services for youth are delivered in New Brunswick.
The report noted that children in New Brunswick have hospitaliztion rates for mental health issues that are double the national rate.
"Experts we have consulted mention that this is not necessarily an indication of a higher incidence of disease or mental illness per se, but perhaps more so a reflection of the paucity of our interventions," states the report.
In an interview, Bossé stated: "There needs to be transformational research done into adolescent mental health and we are working on that very project right now."