The recent youth suicides within Indigenous communities in northern Ontario are tragic and heartbreaking. As often happens when these dramatic events occur, community leaders, parents, teachers, and mental health agencies are often stunned, shocked and puzzled about what to do.
A typical reaction is to provide additional funding for existing mental health services and to fund other resources that are often associated with youth suicide such as poverty, hopelessness, physical and sexual abuse, overcrowding and low levels of education.
Less likely to rise to the top of the priority list are peer programs where trained and supervised youth take an active role in helping other youth to deal with despair, hopelessness, fear, and trauma.
Peer-led interventions are more likely to positively influence the youth culture, speed-up the help and connection youth might need to professional services, connect troubled youth to safe, caring and compassionate peers, and provide the empowerment youth experience from being listened to, understood, acknowledged and supported.
The Province of Ontario is no strangerto evidence-based peer programs. For many years in the past, peer program leaders and consultants like Rey Carr, Diane Taub, Michael Peirce, Wayne Townsend, and Ron Jorgenson trained student peer mentors and facilitated train-the-trainer peer workshops for community leaders in that province (as well as every province and territory in Canada).
In addition, from 1990–1993, our group of trainers plus a dozen others created a national, Canada-wide program, known as “The National Stay-in-School Initiative,” that resulted in more than 30,000 peer mentors being connected to 100,000 students across the country.
Despite the hundreds of trained adult personnel and the thousands of students trained as peer helpers (many of whom have gone on to universities and colleges where they continued to participate in peer-led services) in Ontario, there are many rural communities that have yet to implement a peer-based service for youth.
I’d like to encourage readers of this SpiritMentor blog, particularly the Canadian readers, to write letters-to-the-editor or contact your MP and let them know that peer-led programs are not just add-ons, but are necessary elements to change peer culture to one of healthy, positive support and encouragement so that allyouth can live out their dreams rather than have their dreams thwarted by negative peer pressure and conditions over which they have little control.