North

'It's with us every day': Dehcho youth descend on Fort Simpson to talk mental health

Youth from the N.W.T.'s Dehcho region have arrived in Fort Simpson, taking part in a mental health conference spurred by a number of suicides in the community this summer.

Conference organized by school board after Fort Simpson saw four suicides over the summer

160 youth from across the Dehcho are in Fort Simpson this week for a mental health conference. The participants are learning information about mental health, as well as taking part in activities like art therapy and self defence classes. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Youth from the N.W.T.'s Dehcho region have arrived in Fort Simpson, taking part in a mental health conference spurred by a number of suicides in the community this summer.

The two-day conference includes activities like art therapy, traditional games and self defence. It's aimed at educating youth on the resources available, as well as starting a conversation, according to Terry Jaffray, the Dehcho Divisional Education Council's superintendent and the organizer of the conference.

Jaffray said the idea for the conference came from school board trustees, who asked staff to create a resource for the students after four people committed suicide in the community over a number of months last year.

"They remembered a number of years ago when the larger schools in the region used to host youth conferences," she said. "So they asked we do something like that. Something to bring young people together, and to provide information and strategies for them."

Starting a conversation

Over 150 students from nine different schools are taking part in the conference. Many have been personally affected by suicide.
17-year-old Dallas Thom recently lost a cousin to suicide. He hopes the conference will start a conversation about mental illness. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

One of those is Fort Providence's Dallas Thom. The 17-year-old recently lost a cousin to suicide, and is hoping that the conference will help break the silence surrounding mental illness.

"I kind of think that it's cool... to come to a conference that's based on mental illness," he said. "I think I'll learn a lot of things about mental illness, and take that back to my community."

Anonda Canadien has also been impacted. The 16-year-old, also from Fort Providence, has had multiple friends attempt suicide. 

"I just think people should know about [mental illness]," she said. "Because every time the topic comes up, people just shy away from it.

"It's with us every day."
'It's with us every day': 16-year-old Anonda Canadien had two friends attempt suicide, and is glad the conference will raise awareness about mental health. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Jaffray hopes that the resources provided by the conference will allow the participants to bring strategies and knowledge back to their peers — and, if needed — better prepare them for difficult times themselves.

"Ultimately, we hope that they're going to take away that struggle is normal in life," she said. 

"That it's OK if things don't go perfectly all the time, that they can learn to manage those struggles themselves, first of all, and if they are big struggles... that there are people that they can go to and find assistance."

With files from Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi

now