Young teens to raise mental-health awareness, funds at Soul Sisters event
'The speeches are going to help people recognize that not everyone's perfect'
A group of young teen girls on P.E.I. is raising awareness and funds to support youth mental health Saturday night at the Charlottetown Inn and Conference Centre in an event they're calling Soul Sisters.
The event grew out of the teens' involvement in 24 Strong, a girls' empowerment group run by 19-year-old Islander Lacey Koughan.
That's not something a lot of 13-year-olds would be doing.— Kaleesha Clarkin
"The Soul Sisters event is aimed at empowering our community to end the silence around mental health, specifically for the youth in our community," Koughan said.
The seven girls took part in 24 Strong's Achieve program, a 10-week, goal-oriented program that teaches setting and achieving strategic goals — as part of the program the girls were asked to create a group goal that would have a positive outcome for their community, said Koughan.
"With that in mind they decided they wanted to create a fashion line that would support youth mental health and they wanted to launch that fashion line by hosting an event," Koughan said. "It's pretty inspiring to me to have seen these girls create this event themselves."
Pressure to be perfect
"All the Achieve girls, we're going to be doing a speech on why mental health is important to us and how it has affected us and other people," said Kaleesha Clarkin, 13, one of the seven young organizers.
"I know people it has affected, and a lot of it is because of social media," Clarkin said — pressure to be Instagram perfect, happy and successful creates problems.
"The speeches are going to help people recognize that not everyone's perfect and you've just got to accept that."
The evening will also feature live local music, a panel of local female role models including fitness instructor Bernadette Currie and entrepreneur Ashley Green, and the launch of a locally-produced clothing line that will be available for sale and to order over the next few months.
'I feel very proud of myself'
Tickets for the Soul Sisters event are $15 and so far about 80 people have registered to attend, Koughan said. After they pay for the venue, profits will be donated to a P.E.I. organization that supports youth mental health — the teens are hoping to raise up to $1,000, and plan to announce the recipient Saturday night.
"Lacey taught us a lot about how to put the event together — Lacey did a lot of the standing back and letting us figure it out," Clarkin said. She's never spoken publicly before and admits she's a little nervous, but knows she's not alone in that.
"I feel very proud of myself," for working with her peers to mount the event, Clarkin said. "I think that's pretty big for someone my age — that's not something a lot of 13-year-olds would be doing."
'You are not alone'
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) on P.E.I. is excited to see young people who want to help in their community.
"For mental health, one of the most powerful things you can hear is that you are not alone," said Tayte Willows, community development manager with CMHA on P.E.I. "That isolating effect can really take a toll on people."
"It's also really encouraging for us ... to see that the work we've been doing around mental-health awareness is actually taking off," she said. "People are beginning to have those conversations without needing to have us instigate them."
CMHA offers mental-wellness programs as part of Grades 3 and 9 curriculum in P.E.I. schools, as well as mental-health support groups, parent support groups and workplace mental-health programming using more than 40 support staff and 100 volunteers.
CMHA also gives presentations to young people talking about mental health and helping them develop coping skills —Willows is giving one such talk to a group of 24 Strong participants on Sunday.
Where to find help
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health Willows said you should talk to someone you know and trust and share your burden. If you feel you are in physical danger or are having thoughts of suicide, get professional help by calling the Island Helpline 1-800-218-2885, calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency department, she said.
"There's so many ways we can take care of our mental health, and I think that looks different for each person," Willows said. "There's a lot of strength in youth knowing they can take a break, that they don't have to be running off their feet all the time."
Koughan said when she was 13 none of her peers were talking about mental health and wellness, but now the topic is more openly discussed. She has struggled with her mental health for years and was recently diagnosed as bipolar, she said.
"Saturday's going to be emotional for me, but I'm excited."