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EDITORIAL: Kudos to young leader for tackling mental health

'Instead of standing back and waiting for somebody else to take on the challenge, Yakemchuk saw herself as the somebody who could affect positive change and went for it.'

Often the stories we're told about mental health involve data, facts, and advice from experts.

And many of the accounts that pop up on social media paint young people in our community in a negative light. 

Saige Yakemchuk's story is not about any of those things.

It's about a St. Albert teen who, after years of mental-health struggles, time spent in hospital, and a suicide attempt, saw a need and decided to take action to support other teens in the community.

The Grade 11 student created a blog detailing her personal experience, and an in-person group at her high school for others facing their own mental-health challenges.

"I want to try and use my struggles to help other people because it can be really daunting," Yakemchuk told Gazette reporter Jessica Nelson on page 21 of today's paper. She lost many friendships as a result of the mental-health roller coaster she had been on and wanted to feel better, and help others feel better, too.

As any parent who has supported a teen can attest, an array of mental-health concerns often come along with this time in a child's life. Add to that a prolonged global pandemic with a revolving door of fear, restrictions, and social isolation, and it multiplies those often-devastating mental-health effects.

It's tough for an adult who faces mental-health concerns to function, find balance, to feel seen and supported.

For a brave young person to take on the stigma mental illness carries in the world, head-on, it shows a level of leadership that must be mentioned, and celebrated.

Creating a safe space for students during this time is essential, and the power of peer support is so important when it comes to healing.

Yakemchuk's group — called Mind Matters — doesn't just meet to connect and share. The group has created a breakfast program for those facing eating disorders; makes awareness posters to put up all over the school; creates mental-health awareness videos; and hands out treats featuring positive notes to students.

Instead of standing back and waiting for somebody else to take on the challenge, Yakemchuk saw herself as the somebody who could affect positive change and went for it.

The result, hopefully, will be that others will see her positive spirit, her empathy, her true leadership, and decide to step forward as leaders in the community, too.

The group at her school is growing. Kindness, it seems, is contagious.

Our community would do well to take a page from Yakemchuk's book — show care and concern for those facing so many things we can't see from the outside, but which can affect every part of a person's life. 

And before we jump quickly to judge young people through a negative lens, remember that so many in St. Albert are accomplishing great things. That apart from those winning awards, or more formal accolades, are so many others changing our world for the better, one important idea at a time.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.

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