1.2 The Goal of the YMHAC Initiative

The YMHAC Initiative aims to improve the health and well-being of children and youth through:

  • A focus on mental health promotion;
  • Acceptance of mental illness and reduction of related stigma; and
  • Substance misuse prevention.

The 2013-2015 pilot project was led by RNAO in partnership with six Public Health Units, and was implemented with the support of local Public Health Leads, School Mental Health ASSIST Leads, district school boards, School Staff Leads and Youth Leads. Other important stakeholders who also provided ongoing support to the project include mindyourmind, and the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.

The pilot program engaged over 60 young people and resulted in over 75 activities being implemented across Ontario, over the school year related to mental health promotion, stigma reduction, raising awareness of mental health issues and awareness of locally based resources; all of which aimed to create a supportive and resilient school and community environment for youth. One of the most important outcomes was a shift in stakeholder  attitudes  from  a  mental  illness  focus toward  mental  health  promotion.

For more background, check out the Youth Mental Health and Addiction Champion Project Executive Summary.

For a handy Definition of Terms used throughout this toolkit, see YMHAC Definition of Terms.

The YMHAC Initiative is unique and builds on the understanding that peer leaders are more easy to relate to than adults and therefore can readily contextualize messages and expectations to address the needs of their peers.

Considering the results of the Ontario Child Health Study  (Ontario Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Ministry of Child and Youth Services, 2014) indicating that only one in six children and youth with a mental illness received some form of specialty mental health service, Youth Champions are ideal to assist with providing support and awareness of services and sources of assistance. Likewise, such a program can assist those one in six children and youth in Ontario who have mental illness including substance use disorders, begin to examine strategies for change and take action.