Una Wright is the founder of YouthSpeak, a school board approved organization that provides students workshops that are presented by youth who share their personal stories. The motivation for Una to create YouthSpeak originated from the death of her two children. The workshops aim to raise awareness of mental health, and bullying. They give youth the tools to deal with any mental health problems they will face throughout their lifetime.
“They are more open minded to listening to the stories, and messages our speakers share,” said Una.
The speakers are youths who trained and have the relatable experience for other youth. The personal stories the youth speakers tell make the experience more impactful for the students who are listening to the presentations. The programs have interactive games that allow students to remain engaged instead of just listening to a speaker.
“It also creates a safe space for kids who are struggling. So if they’re going through something and they haven’t talked to anybody about it, they don’t know what’s going on, they’re experiencing high anxiety or depression.”
Una also explained that the programs hope to create compassion and understanding for the students around mental health, and bullying. It is also a reminder that they are not alone if they are experiencing bullying or anxiety.
“Often kids can kind of be tough on each other in school,” explained Una.
“We are actually reaching out to younger and younger [age groups]. We have more and more schools calling us to speak to the grade four, five, sixes.”
Una also explained when YouthSpeak first started, they would mainly speak to mostly children in grades seven and eight. Una has found that the topic in highest demand is around the topic of anxiety.
According to Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), youth are estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are at risk for a mental illness or disorder.
This spring, YouthSpeak introduced a new program called Body Mind. It’s a program that is focused around mental health and wellness, physical fitness and nutrition.
Last year, YouthSpeak provided 190 presentations across southern Ontario which reached 38,000 people. By next year, they aim to have 250 and want to reach 45,000 students, parents and educators.