Three Thunder Bay mental health agencies have launched a new program to help youth express themselves and find support.

St. Joseph's Care Group, the Children's Centre and Thunder Bay Counselling Centre are turning to social media in an effort to reach out to young people.

The agencies have launched the #sharehowUfeel campaign, through which teens can express themselves on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Nancy Chamberlain, executive director, Thunder Bay Counselling Centre

Nancy Chamberlain is the executive director of the Thunder Bay Counselling Centre. Her agency is one of a group that has launched the #ShareHowUFeel social media campaign. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Program organizers like Nancy Chamberlain want teens to know there's somewhere to turn.

"You can talk openly and in confidence,” Chamberlain said, adding the message to youth is, “It's okay to reach out.”

Teens can post words and pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and, at the same time, find out how to access counselling or support services.

Seventeen-year-old Miranda Wassenaar thinks it's a good way to encourage youth to get the help they need.

"It's making it more teenager-friendly to reach out,” she said. “Whereas before … literally you have to go to the place or call the place and it seems a little intimidating."

Miranda Wassenaar

Miranda Wassenaar is a grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill CVI. Wassenaar says UTurn's services could help students deal with stressful decisions about their future. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

The three agencies are working together as a network called UTurn, offering youth access to free counselling, advice, support and information to address a range of issues.

The group said young people are more likely to experience mental illness or substance abuse than any other age group.

The agencies launched #sharehowUfeel at Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute on Tuesday.

"I didn't know about all the different … programs that are geared toward … youth in Thunder Bay,” said 17-year-old Taylor Posthumus, who goes to the school.

Taylor Posthumus

Taylor Posthumus, a Grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill CVI, says social media offers a more convenient way for students to share their feelings or seek help if they need it. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Posthumus said Grade 12 is a time when stress takes a toll, when students are trying to choose universities.

"It's huge, like, ‘What are you supposed to do for the rest of your life?’" she said. "How are we supposed to know when we're only 17?"

Chamberlain, the executive director of Thunder Bay Counselling Centre, said the organization has been working in partnership with St. Joseph's Care Group and Children's Centre Thunder Bay for the last 10 years, but were called Integrated Youth Services network.

The name needed to change to be more attractive to youth, she said. Tuesday’s event was the ideal platform to announce the network is now called UTurn.

Youth can participate in the #sharehowUfeel campaign by tweeting @Uturn, posting a pic to Instagram with the #sharehowUfeel hashtag or visiting the UTurn Facebook page.