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We need to do better! World Mental Health Day at Stella’s Place

by | Oct 24, 2019

A wide angle shot of Dr. Bjug Borgundvaag standing at the microphone in speech with a crowd slightly blurred in the foreground sitting in chairs.

We need to do better!

The theme of October 10th, World Mental Health Day, was suicide prevention. Stella’s Place put together a panel of experts and hosted an information night that was attended by over 60 guests, many of whom had been touched by suicide in deep and profound ways.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year-olds globally, according to the UN. As our keynote speaker, emergency physician and researcher Dr. Bjug Borgundvaag pointed out, young people are experiencing unprecedented levels of distress that are reflected in a 75% increase in emergency department visits over the past decade.

Dr. Borgundvaag works at Mount Sinai Hospital, which is situated in downtown Toronto, in close proximity to university campuses and organizations that serve marginalized populations. The combined student population of the University of Toronto’s St. George Campus and Ryerson University is 100,000, and many of these students need access to mental health services.

Dr. Bjug Borgundvaag standing at the microphone in speech.

Dr. Borgundvaag illustrated how a visit to the emergency department is often a negative experience for young adults:

“They came with expectations that weren’t met, and as a result, they end up not having a lot of faith and confidence in anything we tell them or anything that we suggest they do on follow up. So it’s a real erosion of that relationship and responsibility. They come in a moment when they are most in need. They wait a long time to be seen. And they often leave without a lot being done for them. Which is awful.”

His keynote address set the tone and theme for the evening:  We need to do better!

It was an evening of honest self-reflection, thoughtful exploration of approaches to suicide prevention and tender hope. Each speaker described responses they found to be encouraging in their work. Dr. Borgundvaag outlined a new initiative with Stella’s Place called Pathway to Peers:

Psychotherapist Elizabeth Carey focused on an intervention called “Skills for Safer Living” that was developed by Dr. Yvonne Bergmans at St. Michael’s hospital and adapted for a young adult demographic by Stella’s Place. Elizabeth became interested in Dr. Bergmans’ work when she reached an impasse trying to help a client at high risk of suicide. Many health professionals are averse to discussing suicide and clients leave because they don’t want to make their therapist uncomfortable. “I think we need to do better!” declared Elizabeth. “If we are asking people to step into our offices to consider change […] the least we can do is sit in our discomfort and recognize our discomfort and do what we can to face it.” 

The Skills for Safer Living group provides a safe space and language for participants to articulate their needs:

Stephanie Mather, a clinician at Stella’s Place, explained why the Skills for Safer Living intervention was brought to Stella’s Place and adapted for a young adult population two years ago. Staff were noticing that a large number of young adults who walked through our doors presented with some form of suicidality – suicidal thoughts or urges, or showing up in crisis. The group was introduced to increase the safety of our participants. At Stella’s Place, the group is run by two clinicians and a trained peer supporter. A peer supporter is a previous participant who helps to co-facilitate the group using their own lived experience. Peer supporters help to build a sense of authenticity and trust between participants and facilitators and are vitally important to the success of the group. Having been through a relatable journey, they also regenerate a sense of hope.

“What we hear from participants time and time again is that suicide is all about pain. And in the moments when participants have contemplated taking their own lives it is because they were in so much agonizing, unbearable pain that they felt like they couldn’t go on. So in group we really address that pain head on,” said Stephanie. She also explained how Stella’s Place’s approach to suicidality is different from other health care providers because it is non-reactive and supports a young adult’s sense of control, choice and autonomy:

Martha McGroarty is a parent advocate with lived experience who shares her story, speaks out, volunteers as a crisis responder and raises funds to increase awareness, decrease the stigma of mental illness and effect change. She shares her story to encourage dialogue and help other parents feel less alone. She advocates for systemic change by providing feedback to health care providers and has worked with her MPP to introduce Bill 63, the right to timely mental health and addiction care for children and youth. The passing of this bill will ensure that anyone under 26 has access to the required services within 30 days. The bill passed second reading in February 2019 and is currently awaiting review by the Standing Committee. Martha asks that mental health care be accorded the same consideration as physical healthcare since early intervention and timely access to treatment are critical in suicide prevention. She reasoned that her daughter Breana’s death was preventable:

Martha and her family and friends have chosen to raise awareness and funds for Stella’s Place because they saw that it was filling a gap in the public health care system.

“They have created a safe and warm, inviting space for young people which is exactly what Breana was in search of. She was an independent and intelligent young person and she sought autonomy – with peer support and professional support on her wellness journey. Stella’s Place has that.”

Stella’s Place is addressing suicide prevention in a unique way. It is community-based, non-institutional, open, responsive and non-reactive to suicidal young adults. We help young people live safer lives.

“I have been battling some of the hardest times of my life and with the skills, friends, and Stella’s there to support me, I survived things.”

YA Skills for Safer Living Participant

If you would like to support Stella’s Place’s suicide prevention work, please consider signing up as a monthly donor or making a one-time donation.

A group photo of 6 people, all the speakers for the event. They are all smiling into the camera.

This event was made possible thanks to the generosity and participation of many individuals. We would like to thank our keynote speaker, Dr. Bjug Borgundvaag, panelists Elizabeth Carey, Stephanie Mather and Martha McGroarty, our program director and MC for the evening, John Choi, and our Young Adult Council members, volunteers and staff who helped to make the evening run smoothly.

A printed canvas of the Stella's Place purple and blue logo on a lime green board. Blurred in the foreground are pink, white and green flowers.

We gratefully recognize our food, beverage and flower sponsors, Earl Gorman and Loren Lieberman, Starbucks at 580 Queen Street West, and Jordan Korenzvit.

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