The provincial government has announced it is funding the creation of a youth ambassador program in an effort to empower South Asian youth and tackle the stigma surrounding mental health in that community.
The government made the announcement at Surrey’s Tamanawis Secondary on Monday (June 17).
The South Asian Mental Health Alliance (SAMHAA) will receive $112,900 to train 100 youth ambassadors by the spring of 2021.
According to a release, the training will be offered throughout the Lower Mainland and includes the mental health first-aid certification course, developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
The first batch of 25 youth are set to begin training in Surrey next week.
“For far too long, many South Asian people with mental health and addiction challenges have felt isolated and suffered in silence because of a lack of culture- and language-specific supports,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a release. “This exciting program will empower young people to become mental health advocates, and they, in turn, can help more people to open up and find the supports they need to begin a pathway to healing and hope.”
South Asian communities are one of the largest ethno-cultural groups in the province and tend to access mental health and substance use services less often than the general population, a release from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions notes.
SAMHAA is “tackling this disparity by working with local non-profit societies, faith communities and service providers to raise awareness, build capacity and reduce stigma around mental health, with a focus on leveraging the expertise and influence of second-generation South Asian Canadians,” the release notes.
Kulpreet Singh, founder of SAMHAA, said young people are “leading the charge when it comes to removing the shame and blame around mental health and addiction challenges.”
“This training will give them the skills and support they need to help their peers and family members make mental wellness a priority,” Singh added.
Grade 11 student and youth ambassador Tanisha Kaur Gill said “talking honestly about your mental health can be really daunting.”
“But by using music, dance, poetry and other art forms to talk about mental health, we can break the ice and make it easier for our friends and family members to start having these important conversations,” Gill added.
The funding will also be used to train and mentor participating youth ambassadors in “cultural safety, overdose crisis education, health-care system navigation skills and learning how to use the arts to promote dialogue about mental health.”
SAMHAA is a “non-profit community network engaging, educating and mobilizing the BC South Asian community around issues related to mental health,” according to its website.