Mental health at the forefront

Kelty Youth Ambassador Program Jasmine Rakhra mentor met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

VICTORIA — Of the few people who got to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Prince William and Kate, was Mentor for the Kelty Youth Ambassador Program Jasmine Rakhra who shared her mental health journey.

Rakhra began as an Ambassador in January of 2013 and has worked her way up to being now the mentor of the program.

The Duke and Duchess were interested in speaking with the Youth Ambassadors as they are volunteers that are supported by the Kelty Resource Centre out of BC Children’s hospital. They were interested in knowing what youth were doing in their respected communities as it’s a provincial program that supports youth to provide mental health initiatives at school and in their community settings.

“I think reducing stigma starts with a conversation and being able to talk about mental health as an issue that is actually there in the room, and being able to identify it as a problem that’s not to be hidden is one of the big parts of reducing stigma,” said Provincial Executive Director of Children and Women’s Mental Health at BC Children’s Hospital Sarah Bell.

She said bringing attention to mental health issues like William and Kate have done, will help bring a positive lens to mental health in saying that it does exist and it’s okay to talk to talk about it.

“So many people suffer because of the stigma without getting help, and even if they recognize that there might be a problem they might be ashamed of it or they might not want to disclose anything about how they’re feeling and they might think that there’s something really wrong with them that can’t ever be fixed,” she said.

For Rakhra who has suffered through mental health, she has always had an interest in wanting to be a psychologist, so thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get involved with Kelty. At that time, she was just 15 years old.

“I was always in and out of the hospital throughout my childhood for other health conditions, so I was able to connect to support as I was getting help for my physical health,” said Rakhra, adding that she was able to connect with mental health support.

Unfortunately, since she held onto it for so long, she wasn’t able to get that support she needed until she was 15.

“So it was quite a journey to get the support and it wasn’t easy by any means, but I was lucky that as soon as I had disclosed that I had been feeling suicidal I was instantly connected because I was already connected to doctors and nurses at BC Children’s,” she said.

In their visit to The Breakwater Cafe and Bistro, the Duchess specifically asked Rakhra about what it was like to connect with mental health resources in a school setting. Another Youth Mentor was also there to share his story.

Rakhra said for her, it was very therapeutic to be able to connect with others who have a similar battle.

“I would have to say that it has to do a lot with my recovery now, just where I’m at today, just knowing that I wasn’t alone was very empowering for me…” she said.

She said throughout her struggle, she felt and was made to feel that she was the only one and felt very isolated.

“So to know that there was other youth out there that were also dealing with similar issues really helped me and it really sparked an interest within me to learn more about mental health issues, and to do something, and to create more awareness within not only my school and community, but also just educating those around me,” she said.

Bell, who is responsible for the day to day operations of the inpatient and outpatient units also has a responsibility for the health literacy initiative.

Bell said there are a number of services that BC Children’s Hospital offers when it comes to program services for treatment or clinical care. Some of those including a full range of acute inpatient services, which are of a high level of care for people all across the province. They offer services for children between the ages of five and 12 a 10-bed inpatient unit. They also offer a 10-bed inpatient unit for adolescents, a 14-bed inpatient unit for those with eating disorders and many more services.

For people like Rakhra, sharing her story is important as it can get others to do the same and not feel as though they are alone.

In her conversations with the Duke and Duchess, she said the Kelty Centre has helped her in many ways. She said she believes it to be the reason she’s still here, as it helped her find her purpose in life, connecting with and helping others.

And Rakhra still continues to be a mentor with Kelty.

According to Bell, around 84,000 child and youth in the province might be suffering from a mental health issue at any given time, which requires some level of support.

“We’d say that’s about three or four children in every 30 person classroom,” she said adding that it’s all the time, cycling in and out of it.