Youth and family voices are essential in the battle against child and youth deaths by suicide, says the chair of the Youth and Family League of Project Now, Michele Sparling.
Project Now, a cross-sector partnership between Trillium Health Partners, Peel Public Health, Peel Children’s Centre, Peel District School Board, and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, was publicly launched last September with a $3 million commitment from the provincial government. Project Now’s mission is to eliminate deaths by suicide of children and youth in Mississauga. Project Now will also share its learning with other municipalities to reduce one of the greatest crises affecting young lives – especially during these anxious times.
I had a conversation with Michele last week via Zoom. She said it had always been the intention to have the Youth and Family League as part of the project. Michele, herself, was asked to be
chair by Dr. Ian Dawe, Program Chief and Medical Director (Mental Health) at Trillium Health
Partners and Senior Medical Advisor for Project Now. Not only has she volunteered as part of mental health organizations and committees at local, provincial, and national levels the past 15 years, she has navigated the mental health support system to gain help for her family members.
The Youth and Family league provides the project with the experience of those affected by suicidal thoughts or personal loss. It gives Project Now insight about where the system isn’t supporting youth and how things could change.
When first building Project Now’s suggested roadmap, young people said they didn’t see themselves in the images and wording for goals and outcomes, said Michele. “Their words are their words and it wasn’t my place to create the narrative of what [youth] were saying,” added Michele. She sent the unvarnished critique to project managers. “The great part about it was that the team [members] are fabulous and very open and very authentic about what they are trying to achieve here,” she said. They looked at it and agreed, “yes, we need to change.”
Focus is now on Hope, Help, and Healing. “It really is reflective of the people in [Mississauga],” explains Michele.
How can community collaboratives help?
Michele answered that a key part of the solution is the work of community groups to educate and talk about mental health and the harder subject of suicide: “We spend so much time when our families and youth are in crisis – downstream – that we aren’t spending the time upstream to do the awareness and education and prevention in the first place.”
She also said that the Youth and Family League needs more voices of youth.
If you are or know a young person between the ages of 16 and 24 who can share their experiences and serve on the League, please go to the self-nomination form: here
Listen to Michele speak with me about the contributions of community members to Project Now; (5 minute video).