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The transition from young adult to adult is replete with challenges at the best of times. Add mental health complications and a global pandemic into the mix, and youth are left with feelings of crises that can seem insurmountable. Intensify those odds with the intersectionality of race and gender with disproportionate access to therapeutic intervention, and it can be bewildering to know where and how to seek assistance.
Lereen Francois, a young Black woman, is utilizing her resources to cope with her anxiety during the global pandemic. Lereen was a training participant in the Community Healing Project, a trauma-informed and peer-based approach to addressing the impact of exposure to community violence on youth. In partnership with Stella’s Place, this City of Toronto initiative delivers peer-to-peer support for youth in vulnerable communities across the city, helping direct youth to mental health literacy and resilience to trauma. In 2017, a colleague introduced Lereen to Stella’s Place, where she shortly became a member of Stella’s Place’s Young Adult Council.
Lereen, photographed outside Stella’s Place new building, 54 Wolseley
Though anxiety had been an ongoing challenge for Lereen, she managed to find emotional regulation and relative calm through peer support. Then the pandemic hit.
“I thought I was completely fine, and then Covid-19 happened, and I find myself having to be back in that place again where I feel like I don’t know how to cope with my anxiety on my own.”
Lereen feels that her anxiety has been exponentially increased due to the virus, she knew it wasn’t “just a feeling” and therapeutic intervention was needed.
Many of her peers feel the same way. Alex Gosselin, Manager of Clinical and Recovery Services at Stella’s Place has noticed this theme: “It’s quite common for folks to have to navigate what it’s like to be in isolation, being away from communities that they feel safe in. These feelings are common – to have a lot of range in your emotional experience during a crisis, so it can be very regulating to connect with other folks who are going through something similar”.
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Here at Stella’s Place, we have rapidly and seamlessly converted our in-person support to virtual care, enabling young adults to reach out quickly and early before emotional concerns become crises. Current media interviews have enabled Lereen to reassure her peers with suggestions that are working for her:
“I’m basically trying to know what my capacity is, and don’t try to compare myself to what’s happening on social media, and really just check in and stay connected with my body, and know what’s good for me.”
Lereen finds that walking, journaling, and being kind to herself restores her serenity. She urges her peers to ask for the support they need, and recommends that institutions use language that youth can recognize as addressing their needs, and guide them to services and environments where they can feel safe and included. Lereen is an advocate for Stella’s Place, where peer support and co-design allows young adults to influence charting their path to recovery.
Among the long list of mental health advocacy work that she is involved in, Lereen founded Black Mental Health Visibility (BMHV) in 2018. BMHV is a social enterprise with a mission to provide representation, education and culturally competent support to Black youth in the community.
Black Mental Health Visibility Instagram profile
BMHV partners with other organizations and runs programs to teach youth how to build resilience and increase mental health literacy. Youth are given tools to help retain employment, and are connected to resources, such as Stella’s Place.
“Stella’s Place has the resources that folks are looking for. The way Stella’s Place is set up is something that young adults need. Decisions are not made for you, instead, they listen and want you to be a part of your own care. It’s easy to be at Stella’s Place. The model is youth friendly. I feel relaxed here. It speaks to young adults.”
Since the lockdown under COVID-19 started, demand for our secure mobile chat application, BeanBagChat has tripled. We responded by greatly expanding service hours and hiring more staff to provide chat support. Demand for our clinical and counselling services has also seen a substantial increase and our Peer Support Training Program is being delivered virtually for the first time as well.
With your help and the extraordinary matching gift from the Aubrey & Marla Dan Foundation we can meet the need now and beyond the immediate crisis of COVID-19. Let’s help our young people with generosity and care!
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