The Mental Wellness Summit was in Whitehorse this week to discuss mental health in the territory — a serious issue, especially for youth across the Yukon. 

"We must encourage them, hold them up and show them there is light at the end of the tunnel." - Doris Bill

Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill began the summit by talking about a recent teen suicide that happened in one of the outlying communities in the territory.

"Teen suicide in the North and indeed across the country is serious and must be given greater priority," said Bill.

Bill said she's reaching out to mental health professionals in the field in an attempt to better understand what the territory is dealing with.

"We must find a way to involve and engage our young people. They must feel included, valued and important. We must encourage them, hold them up and show them there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there are better ways to cope," she said.

Youth in the communities

It's also important to reach young people in the communities, who don't necessarily need to come to Whitehorse to be connected with services.

Byte and Skookum Jim Friendship Center both have projects specifically aimed at youth in the communities. David Dugas from the Friendship Centre and Shelby Maunder from Byte both presented their organizations' youth projects at the summit this week.

Mental Wellness Summit Whitehorse

Mental Wellness Summit in Whitehorse. (Jamie McKenzie/CBC)

Dugas said that getting into the communities and interacting with the youth helps them feel connected with other young people and services that they might not know of otherwise.

"We want these youth to have fun, we want them to feel connected, we want them to feel reached out to," said Dugas.

The Skookum Jim Friendship Centre plans on going to four communities — already having visited Old Crow — using art as a way to engage the youth and as a form of therapy, said Dugas.

The program is an arts based community tour. The Friendship Centre brings art supplies and facilitators to the communities and would use art as a form of therapy, said Dugas.

"Often we have to come to Whitehorse to access services," said Maunder. "So it's important to... meet youth where they're at." 

Byte is "on the road a lot," said Maunder.

Byte's current project for young people in the communities is the Youth Empowering Youth project —a two day workshop that they plan on delivering in eight communities.