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Do you know Jack? Help for anxious young people to cope with COVID-19

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has teamed up with Jack.org to distribute Be There, a digital mental health resource for thousands of young Ontarians
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(From the left)  Allie Chown, co-president of Jack.org Laurentian, Sadia Fazelyar, Jack.org network representative, and Thomas Houle, co-president of Jack.org Laurentian at Laurentian University for Jack.org Laurentian's inaugural Regional Summit in 2019. (Keira Ferguson/ Sudbury.com)

There is help and support out there for young people in Sudbury and across Ontario who might be feeling a little stressed out by the daily challenges of COVID-19.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has teamed up with Jack.org to distribute "Be There", a digital mental health resource, for thousands of young Ontarians. Be There teaches young people how to support one another through mental health struggles. Jack.org is a Canadian website focussed on teaching young leaders how to help young people with mental health challenges. Sudbury has Jack.org chapters at Laurentian University and Confederation Secondary School in Val Caron.

The Be There program is regarded especially important now that young people are facing something their parents and older siblings never had to deal with, the COVID-19 pandemic.  

"It was made with the intention to pretty much give young people the tools they need to support anyone in their life -- typically it would be another young person -- who might be struggling with their mental health," said Shayan Yazdanpanah of Toronto, a national coordinator of the Be There program. 

"We found when we surveyed young people, a lot of them, I think it was about 88 per cent of young people had reported they were having mental health conversations with their friends to some degree," said  Yazdanpanah.  He said the same survey revealed that only about 36 per cent felt equipped to have such conversations with their close friends who might be in a crisis. 

The Be There program helps young people in high school and post secondary schools to be better able to be the friend that a person can turn to, to speak to them honestly, to show they care for the person in distress, to listen and hear them out, and to help them get access to professional and community resources.

He said many young people find it easier to confide in friends, as opposed to a parent or a teacher. That said, Yazdanpanah said the Be There program does emphasize the importance of bringing in a professional for guidance and support when the situation warrants it. 

Yazdanpanah said coping with the COVID-19 crisis is something many young people never expected in their lives. 

"In terms of what is happening right now you know obviously with a lot of us not seeing our friends, being separated from each other ... with social distancing and everything going on in the world right now, a lot of people are struggling with their mental health, especially young people," he said. 

A similar sentiment was voiced by OPG President and CEO Ken Hartwick who commented on the importance of having open communication with young people on mental health concerns.

"We need to be able to talk about mental illness with compassion, care and confidence," said Hartwick in a company news release.  

"Jack.org's ground-breaking platform provides real-world tools for starting conversations about mental health. Recognizing the need for mental health education and support within and beyond the workplace, OPG is proud to amplify Jack.org's efforts to make practical, accessible resources available to youth, who in turn can share them with their networks of families and friends."

Be There is a program launched by Jack.org just over a year ago, in May 2019.  It's a digital mental health resource that teaches young people the skills they need to be there for someone through any mental health struggle said the Jack.org website. Since launching in May 2019, Be There has been used by over 290,000 people across Canada, and received two Webby Awards as Top Health Website in the world. The program will be distributed via a targeted, multi-platform campaign launching this summer.

Allison Chown, one of the co-presidents at the Laurentian University chapter of Jack.org said almost everyone knows someone who struggles with mental health, but not everyone knows how to give support. She said it takes only minutes to learn to be ready to help a person in need.

“By taking five minutes you will become a part of the change we need to see in our communities. You will be educated and prepared to help. By taking five minutes you will change someone's life. Whether it be the stressors of day to day life, school, work, or COVID-19, everyone has mental health that needs to be taken care of,” said Chown


About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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