Lost and Found(ry) — Helping Youth Find Wellbeing in Victoria, B.C.

Overcoming stigma can seem like an insurmountable obstacle for youth in need of mental health support. Especially when the supports they turn to are overburdened — and they aren’t necessarily the services they need.

The mental health network can be a treasure trove of resources, but it’s the interconnected nature of these multi-disciplinary supports that makes them valuable. That’s the innovation at the centre of Foundry, a youth health hub that has recently opened its doors in downtown Victoria.

The beautiful, multi-floor youth space on Douglas street now houses a range of community health teams, including Island Health’s Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) team, the Victoria Youth Clinic, Child and Youth Mental Health (MCFD), and NEED2 Suicide Prevention. I spoke with Justine Thompson of NEED2 about the culture of the space and its service to the Victoria community.

As a Foundry employee led me through the dynamic, well-lit space, Justine emphasized the interconnectivity of the organization. While Foundry has a clinical lead, at the centre of their programming is a Navigator. Youth coming in for drop-in support connect with a Navigator who can help them assess what kind of support they need and make a concrete plan for accessing these services — whether it be a counsellor, a general practitioner or anything else. Youth can immediately access a network that is welcoming and transparent, making appropriate follow-up appointments and possibly even meeting the counsellor or doctor they’ll be seeing ahead of time.

Justine, Executive Director for NEED2 Suicide Prevention Education and Support, emphasized the way the mental health system can be daunting for youth, noting that Foundry’s Navigator approach helped reduce the time that young people spend in the dark, waiting for unfamiliar and uncertain support.

My own experience with Foundry walk-in counselling reinforced the effectiveness of this supportive model. After being welcomed into the sunny, brightly coloured space, a couple days after my initial visit with Justine, I waited a brief 45 minutes before meeting with a counsellor. The support was informative and engaging, and provided useful anxiety strategies and connections to resources, as well as a follow-up appointment with the same counsellor. As a newcomer in Victoria, I’ve struggled with walk-in clinics and long wait times, and arriving at Foundry to be received in this way was a pleasant relief.

I felt respected, supported and at ease accessing services, and Justine highlighted this as a priority at Foundry.

Creating a supportive space for young people also depends on the way youth are talked to and talked about, she added. At Foundry, it’s incredibly important that adults in supportive roles present themselves genuinely and discuss youth in a respectful and open manner, whether or not the youth are in the room.  Justine also sees the importance of employee interactions following the model of youth interactions when it comes to awareness, acceptance and inclusiveness at Foundry.

This value for genuine, accepting interactions is one of the reasons Justine is supportive of Stigma-Free spaces.

Reducing stigma is central to NEED2’s mandate, which aims to break the silence around youth suicide. NEED2 runs school outreach programs and an online chat service called YouthSpace, which engages approximately 105 youth and young adult volunteers in peer support and is available every night of the week from 9pm to 12am.

As a youth support space, there’s an assumption that Stigma-Free culture happens automatically, but even in diverse spaces like this, reinforcement of Stigma-Free values is invaluable, Justine explains.

Justine states, “There’s a perception that things have radically changed, but there’s always value in stigma awareness and education. We’re all human, and we still self-stigmatize. We make mistakes.”

We all need to actively participate in fostering Stigma-Free spaces.

“So, what would a Stigma-Free Space look and feel like to you?” I asked Justine. A sense of belonging, fidgets, things to hold and engage with, snacks, information, colour, warm décor, pleasant lighting, and a non-clinical feeling were just a few of the things she named. Most of these elements were exactly what made me feel so at home when I stepped through the doors at Foundry, both in a professional role and as a client.

The Foundry Hub is one of many excellent supports in Victoria for youth, and their work deconstructing stigmas and promoting mentally healthy lifestyles is an impressive addition to our community network. At Stigma-Free, we’re excited at the prospects for collaboration with the Foundry team, and the spread of Stigma-Free culture across the city.

For more about Foundry, visit http://www.foundrybc.ca