Written By: Kaitlinn Gammon
Kaitlinn Gammon is one of the new co-chairs of The New Mentality's Youth Action Committee
I was 16 years old when I first experienced a numbing sensation in my toes and a feeling of despair in the tightness of my chest. I was sitting in my car staring up at the stars in hopes that they could answer all of my questions. Most importantly, the question of how I got to be there: homeless. I remember every detail of that first night out on my own and I think I always will. It was a Sunday in December and I had to go to school the next morning. I had just come out to my parents after years of contemplation of telling anyone about my sexuality...as you can assume, it didn’t go very well. I was kicked out of my family home and so my long journey of mental health challenges, isolation, and self-awareness building, had begun.
I spent the rest of my senior year of high school living in a bigger secret than I once did of my sexuality. I was ashamed of my circumstances, embarrassed of the state of my mental health, and too anxious to reach out for help. I was the student council president, the girls hockey team captain, well respected by my peers, and when no one noticed any changes in my behaviour, I began to feel invisible. This lead to pervasive thoughts about the purpose of my own presence on this planet.
Now years later after lengthy wait lists and exposure to the lack of relevant services for queer individuals, I have made my way to Laurentian University to study Social Work. I am working hard to become visible and to speak for the voices that are not heard or whom cannot speak. I currently work in two different research labs at the Evaluating Children’s Health Outcomes (ECHO) Research Centre. As a member of the Aboriginal Children's Health and Well-being (ACWHM) interdisciplinary research team, I have been exposed to the urgent needs that exist within communities. I see devastating effects of ongoing colonial trauma in the manifestation of many mental and emotional health challenges faced by children, the lack of access to (relevant) services, and the mind blowing fact that these problems with deep historical implications are still widely misunderstood, solutions are highly underfunded, and virtually invisible.
Throughout my experiences as a queer youth and a professional working with Indigenous children and their communities, I have come to learn that invisible youth in our mental health care system is a highly visible problem!
LGBTQ2S+ and Indigenous young people are amongst the most vulnerable of our youth populations, with disproportionately higher rates of suicide than non-Indigenous and heterosexual youth. Specifically, First Nations youth are five to six (Advisory Group on Suicide Prevention (Canada), 2003) or seven (First Nations and Inuit Health, 2016) times more likely to take their own life than non-Indigenous Canadian youth. Rates of suicide increase for Inuit youth at 5 to 25 times the national average (ITK, 2016). In addition to these staggering statistics, LGBTQ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than heterosexual peers.
These youth, and all youth, are invincible. They have infinite power behind them and endless possibility before them. They need to know this and that their lives matter. What better way to show youth that they are seen than to give them an equitable mental health care system that supports ALL children and youth, with equal access to mental health services that are relevant to them and appropriate, available directly as their needs arise. Once youth are seen, we will be blinded by their shine.
At CMHO we are committed to doing more to help youth like Kaitlinn find the help and support that they need when they need it and in their own communities. You can add your voice by sending a letter to Premier Wynne from www.kidsmentalhealthcantwait.ca
Advisory Group on Suicide Prevention (Canada). (2003, November 23, 2015). Acting On What We Know : Preventing Youth Suicide in First Nations. Retrieved from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/alt_formats/fnihb-dgspni/pdf/pubs/suicide/prev_youth-jeune-eng.pdf
First Nations and Inuit Health. (2016). Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from Government of Canada website:https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/first-nations-inuit-healt h/health-promotion/suicide-prevention.html
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). (2016). National Inuit suicide prevention strategy. Ottawa, ON