As an organization dedicated to serving young people, Kids Help Phone is deeply committed to championing the voices of youth and being guided by their feedback, ideas and insights. That’s why we launched the National Youth Council, a committee of young people from across Canada who are dedicated to advocating for youth mental health, sharing ideas to deepen our impact and collaborating on special initiatives throughout the year.
Here, National Youth Council Co-Chairs Matthew McLaughlin, a third-year student at McGill University in Montreal, and David Fan, a Grade 12 student in Newmarket, Ontario, share how they got involved and why our mission is more important today than ever before.
What inspired you to get involved with Kids Help Phone?
David: Growing up, my father always told me “boys don’t cry.” As a result, when I experienced severe verbal and physical bullying in Grade 5, I bit my tongue and stayed silent. I still remember the nights when I couldn’t fall asleep, crying in bed alone and feeling ashamed.
Then one day, seeing the Kids Help Phone number on the back of a Kit-Kat bar, I decided to make a call. Talking to a counsellor gave me the courage to report my situation to the proper authorities, ignited my desire to help other bullying victims and led me to join the National Youth Council to advocate for youth and mental health across Canada.
Matthew: I was always implicitly aware of the importance of mental health, but it wasn’t something my family talked about. Then, when I was in high school, there was a tragedy in my family resulting from a mental health challenge that had gone unnoticed. It was a huge wake-up call for all of us, and ever since then we’ve spoken much more openly about mental health.
After that, I was looking at Kids Help Phone’s website and saw the call for applications to the National Youth Council. I realized this was a great way to get involved and help make a difference for the mental health conversation in Canada. I joined in 2017 and became Co-Chair a year later.
What are some of the major issues impacting youth mental health in Canada today and why is it important for people in Canada to pay attention?
D: With the rise of social media and technology, rates of mental ill-health and suicide have risen dramatically among youth in Canada over the past few decades. It’s crucial to address youth mental health in order to reduce the stigma around speaking out and getting help. Only by addressing the issues head on will communities take notice and provide the mental health resources that are desperately needed.
M: In addition to the effects of social media and cyberbullying, anxiety related to climate change — also called “eco-anxiety” — is a major issue impacting young people today. Climate change is a very serious threat and one that young people will be living with for many years to come. It’s important that people in Canada recognize the impact climate change is having on mental health, and particularly on the mental health of young people, so we can work together to build a stronger and more resilient society as we face these challenges.
How has the National Youth Council helped strengthen the mission and impact of Kids Help Phone?
D: The National Youth Council represents youth from across Canada who use Kids Help Phone every day, and helps to identify the problems that youth urgently need addressed. The Council also helps to strengthen Kids Help Phone’s reach by actively delivering mental health awareness presentations to schools, publishing digital media content for youth, and providing feedback on upcoming projects and campaigns.
M: I also love that the Board of Directors includes a permanent seat for a representative of the National Youth Council. As the current youth Board member, I feel my voice is always included and valued. It’s so important that an organization serving young people is taking into account the experiences, insights and suggestions of youth and that’s exactly what Kids Help Phone is doing.