Youth summit on mental wellness gathers students in upper river valley

Article Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2019

​Approximately 50 students in Grades 9-11 from five schools in the upper river valley attended a youth empowerment summit near Woodstock on Oct. 29 to learn about mental wellness for teenagers in today's complex world.

"Mental health and well-being empowers us to be the best that we can be," said Valerie Carmichael, community coordinator for schools in the Carleton North area. "We hope you will be able to take this empowerment back to your school for you and  to share with your peers."

The summit, the second held in the upper river valley, was organized by Western Valley Wellness Network members, in partnership with ASD-W, and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Keynote speakers and workshop sessions focused on a variety of current topics including the impact of technology and social media on everyday life, healthy relationships, and nutrition and sleep for mental fitness. The students participated in the discussions, while teachers in attendance took part in workshops on self-care and stress management with the overall objective of supporting mental health in the school environment.

Ronna Gauthier, wellness coordinator for the New Brunswick Teachers Association, told the students: "being a teenager is tough. It's tougher than it ever has been," due to changes in parenting, technology and social media, the impact of the information age, mass media and globalization. All of these issues makes it harder to navigate life and grow up to become healthy adults, she said. 

Gauthier gave the students several lessons to consider to maintain good mental health: rumination is ruination, that is giving power to anxiety by re-living experiences and sharing your feelings with the wrong people; staying calm and asking for help from experts, while relying on your friends for fun and moral support; 'own it don't let it own you' to control your anxiety or mood; life balance, doing healthy things you enjoy and down time; nutrition, sleep and physical activity to help manage stress; listening to your inner voice, 'the most influential person you will talk to all day' to recognize your true feelings and beliefs; taking care of yourself as a priority not a luxury; and understanding your cell phone can dominate your life and be used for spreading both good and bad information.

"Think about your life," Gauthier said. "Recharge your batteries...share and promote optimism....focus on good vibes only."

Kaitee Stairs from the Canadian Mental Health Association said self-esteem is a big part of mental health because it promotes self respect, confidence, and believing in yourself despite what others may be saying about you. When you have healthy self-esteem, you are better able to succeed, or handle situations and relationships, she said. To build self esteem, she recommended practising talents and hobbies, taking part in physical activity, and exercising mindfulness.

"Hang out with positive people," said Stairs. "Live in the moment, not worrying about the past or what might happen in the future. Enjoy your family and friends. It's really important to spread kindness to boost our spirits and cheer each other up."

Social media was a key issue under discussion at the summit as conversations took place about sexting, cyberbullying, posting photos online and losing control of personal information or images online, unhealthy boundaries and threats or frauds in cyberspace. Students were advised to think twice before texting, sending messages or posting photos online because what "you share cannot be retrieved and can reach far beyond your intended audience," causing a stream of consequences.The students were also advised of a tipline for cybercrime at

Schools attending the first summit in Grand Falls were Saint Mary's Academy, Tobique Valley High School John Caldwell High School and Southern Victoria High School with guest speaker Mitch McMillan, a retired RCMP officer. Carleton North High School, Hartland Community School, Woodstock High School, Canterbury High School, and Nackawic High School took part in the second summit held near Woodstock. About 100 students were involved overall.

Shown in the photos below are (1) Valerie Carmichael, community coordinator for ASD-W, Collen MacDonald Briggs, Western Valley Wellness Network, and Anna Hamill, schools committee member at the summit; (2) students waiting for sessions to begin; (3) Carleton North High School students arriving at the summit (left to right) Jaymee Henley, Sophie Chase, Carrie O'Neill, Elliot Derrah, Liliana Hargrove and Delaney Kilfoil.