United for Mental Health: Zoe’s Story

May 30, 2023 / by United Way

Give to United Way today to help youth struggling with mental health

From boomers to Gen Z, few adults remember their tween and teen years as being totally smooth sailing. At the time, much of life seems bafflingly new, changeable, or stressful. Coping with dramatic changes to your body is tough enough, let alone navigating complex social rules at school or trying to land your first part-time job.

For some youth on Southern Vancouver Island, there’s an additional worry: dealing with mental health challenges.

Zoë Newson, a staff member at Mental Health Recovery Partners (MHRP) – South Island, views her own first-hand experience with mental health challenges as an invaluable way to connect with those she now supports in her role as a peer support manager.

As a mental health care professional with more than 12 years of personal lived experience, Newson knows that peer support can have a meaningful impact on youth who are struggling with mental health. “Someone shared with me the idea that if you’re not able to find hope in yourself, you can find somebody who can hold that hope for you,” she says.

Offering hope, an empathetic presence, and a safe space for kids in the community who need it most is a necessity on Southern Vancouver Island. Incidences of youth dealing with mental health challenges have become more obvious in recent years, accelerated in part by factors like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Locally, one in three residents face worse or much worse mental health, compared to pre-pandemic times, and youth are at higher risk, reporting significant anxiety, depression, and stress. The World Health Organization describes the situation as a growing crisis in mental health.

Recognizing the seriousness of the crisis here in our own community, this spring the United Way Southern Vancouver Island (UWSVI) launched the United for Mental Health campaign to support local youth to get the help they need.

As of April 6, the community has raised a total of $29,670 through the United for Mental Health campaign. The donations will go to a network of community partners who provide crucial mental health services such as counselling, crisis support, and mental health education.

UWSVI gives special thanks to Island Savings, its campaign corporate partner, for matching individual donations, dollar-for-dollar, to a total of $10,000.

These donations will support local programs and services like MHRP’s in-house peer support programs, so mental health professionals like Newson can help youth whom she says are saying, “Hey, I would really benefit with connecting with somebody who has lived experience and getting emotional and practical support.”

Not only does United Way funding allow agencies to continue (and grow) established programs; it also frees them up to develop new approaches. For example, MHRP is helping youth navigate the vast constellation of resources and programs related to mental health, using tools that youth find useful. Pointing to a QR code on her key fob, Newson explains that it leads users to a landing page with a host of practical links.

MHRP is only one of the local agencies that will benefit from the infusion of support. As with all its campaigns, United Way funds and supports a network of agencies in the community that deliver programs and services to those in need. Donor dollars are spread across diverse projects, agencies, and organizations—some with very targeted approaches and client bases—to maximize the overall impact and build capacity.

Donations provide immediate support to much-needed resources. And as Erika Stenson, Executive Director of UWSVI, notes, “The long-term impacts of these donations are significant, even exponential. Donors support programs that in turn support youth, giving them access to the resources and support they need to live happy, healthy lives for decades to come.”

Stenson says that the United Way believes mental health is just as important as one’s physical, social, or economic health, and plays a critical role in building stronger communities.

UWSVI encourages people throughout Southern Vancouver Island to spread the word about the need to support youth with mental health challenges and to make a donation.

The United for Mental Health campaign ends on June 1, 2023, but there’s still time to give. Visit uwsvi.ca/unitedformentalhealth to learn more or to donate.