Five Questions With Emily Jenkins

Mental health challenges are the leading health issue facing youth in Canada, yet many youth in need of mental health supports are not being reached. To address this gap, CAI has partnered with the UBC research team led by Emily Jenkins (PhD, MPH, RN). This partnership aims to explore how youth aged 15-30 can be meaningfully engaged in the public policy process towards the development of relevant and responsive policy to promote improved mental health and substance use outcomes among themselves and their peers

Our vision is a collaborative partnership intended to maximize the impact of CAI’s investments in youth engagement and policymaking to address the current public policy context in BC. The partnership between CAI and the UBC team will strengthen the capacity of community-based organizations to address mental health and substance use challenges among youth and as a result will have several evidence-based knowledge translation products that can be used by diverse stakeholders in the mental health and substance use sector.

We caught up with Emily to ask her five questions related to the Youth Mental Health Project.

1. What have you learned from this work that you find inspiring/motivating?

In working with youth in collaborative research, I have had the opportunity to learn about – and experience firsthand – the powerful ways in which a dedicated group of youth can transform their communities. This has included shifting the ways in which communities understand mental health (moving to a strengths-based perspective), changing norms and community practices, and breaking down long-held (and harmful) social divisions. I am consistently in awe of the dedication that the youth I work with demonstrate toward improving outcomes for their communities as well as their desire to help others. This both inspires motivates me.

2. Why is the voice and active participation of youth at the mental health policy table needed now more than ever?

I am not sure that the active participation of youth at the policy table is needed now more than at any other time in history; however, we are experiencing a window of opportunity to advance youth engagement in policy through growing recognition of the importance of youth voice, rising appreciation for youth strengths and capacities, as well as government and organizational interest in having youth “at the table”. Our team is working to leverage this opportunity to develop approaches and resources to guide meaningful youth engagement, including equipping youth with knowledge, skills and tools to inform and strengthen their policy action.

3. What are some things that any community organization can do to welcome people with lived and living experience to planning a program or service that affects them?

Youth want and deserve their expertise to be heard. Both the research literature and the youth we work with tell us that if community organizations want to welcome young people into a process of collaborative program or policy planning, they need to create space to listen and they need to reflect what they hear in their actions. The experience of youth’s expertise “collecting dust on a shelf” is at best, frustrating, but can also be demoralizing and create mistrust.

4. “Collaboration” is one of our core values at CAI. This value is demonstrated in supporting partnerships and collaboration across sectors to reduce systems barriers and empower collective action. Relating to collaboration, why has it been important to receive support from CAI for this project?

Receiving support from CAI for this project has been important because of the organization’s commitment to collaboration. This collaboration has been enacted through moving beyond a simple financial contribution, to also include efforts to bolster our research by further growing our team and network. We are so pleased to be working closely with members of the CAI staff team and Leadership Council, who augment our team’s existing skillset and provide opportunities to expand the reach and impact of our collective work.

5. What are you most excited about for this project?

This project excites me because it holds so much possibility – possibility to create change and improve the lives of young people in our province and country. Adding to this excitement is the iterative nature of collaborative research, which means that the journey and outcomes are full of surprises. Working with youth to manifest this potential is rewarding and the opportunity to contribute better understandings and to extend current approaches to mental health promotion intervention is both personally and professionally rewarding.