British Columbia

Youth mental health focus of Grouse Mountain meeting

After her son died by suicide, Deborah Maguire Tucker realized something was missing from mental health support systems: youth were not able to talk to each other about it.

Conference brings over 100 North Shore high school students together to talk about mental health

Talk at the Top founder Deborah Maguire Tucker believes the missing piece of the youth mental health puzzle is the youth themselves. (Getty Images)

For the fourth year in a row, a youth-led summit on tackling the stigma of mental health will take place on Grouse Mountain.

Talk at the Top invites youth from high schools all over the North Shore to learn how they can cope with mental health issues and help their peers who are facing challenges.

Over 100 high school students will be in attendance, including Yvana Avram, a Grade 12 student in North Vancouver.

"A lot of my peers have been struggling with anxiety … A lot of them are scared to seek out and get any treatment, and it's heartbreaking to be honest," she told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"It's just so widespread and no one's talking to each other."

Avram says she also sees friends with depression who are afraid to come to school, as well as friends with eating disorders.

She says while there are lots of official resources for mental health challenges, strong stigma prevents youth from talking to each other in many cases.

Son's suicide led to conference

The person behind Talk at the Top is Deborah Maguire Tucker. She was inspired to create the forum after her son, Owen Tucker, took his life at age 21.

Tucker says Owen had been living with mental health challenges like anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder for about 10 years leading up to his death.

"He was extremely open. Our family was very involved in the support, the journey and the care," she said.

"The challenge is it becomes such a family journey and a struggle. The disconnect I'm so passionate about changing is the interaction with the peers."

Tucker believes her son felt isolated because young people have a hard time talking about their mental health when they have problems. While his family was there for him, his friends didn't know how to be.

Photographer shares his story

Photographer Bryce Evans will be speaking at Talk at the Top about his own mental health challenges.

Evans is the founder of The One Project, a photography community for people living with depression and anxiety.

"I was able to develop this system or these techniques that allowed me to use photos as a way of communicating or better understanding what I was going through through visual language," he said.

"With mental health a lot of times we see there's kind of a 0 to 100. You have to be silent on it or speak up and tell someone. But for a lot of people and myself that's too big of a gap. Photography allows you to break that into a lot smaller chunks and make it a lot more manageable to start talking to people about it."

Tucker hopes that students at Talk at the Top are able to do what Evans did: start their own projects and groups that help break down barriers and stigma within their peer groups.

"It is so empowering to watch the kids come together and empower each other for change. It's just — it's amazing," she said.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Talk at the Top encourages youth to fight stigma on mental health