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Students talk mental health, ending stigma at HeadStrong Summit

Cst. Colin Helm says speaking out is worth it ‘if what I’ve said can even help one person’

BEAR RIVER, NS – Understanding mental health and wellness was the topic of a recent event where students were encouraged to work toward ending its stigma.

The HeadStrong Summit saw 75 students from Digby Regional High School, St. Mary’s Bay Academy and Islands Consolidated High School, along with 25 community partners, meet October 26 to talk about mental health, and how people can struggle with it.

Three speakers, including Digby RCMP’s Constable Colin Helm, spoke about their personal journeys. For Helm, it was his first time speaking publicly on his experiences with PTSD.

“I was nervous, but it’s important to talk about. If what I’ve said can even help one person, then it’s worth it,” he said.


The event and its discussion

The summit was held at the Mi’kmaq Heritage and Cultural Centre at Bear River First Nation. Amy Theriault, the Tri County Regional School Board’s SchoolsPlus facilitator in Digby, worked with a planning committee to organize it after attending a HeadStrong summit in Pictou.

The summits are held across Canada and are an anti-stigma initiative, creating a safe space for people to talk about mental health problems and illnesses. After participating in the Pictou summit, Theriault saw a need in Digby schools for the event and began researching how to host one here.

“This struck me as a very important thing to do, for the students, as a way to talk about mental health,” she said.


What they learned

HeadStrong summits are held outside of schools in separate environments where students can engage with each other independently, and bring ideas back to their respective areas and schools.

Students like Madison Brown, Hannah Theriault, Calli Amero, Brianna Allbright and Alex Windsor participated in the event, and took many new ideas away from it.

“It’s been educating. I’ve learned stuff about mental health that I didn’t know before, like how to help people,” said Brown.

“I’ve learned so much today. A lot of people try to hide their mental health from their friends and parents, and try to deal with it alone,” said Theriault.


Talking about the hard stuff

Speaking openly about mental health struggles is hard. So is being vulnerable.

This is why Amy Theriault felt so proud of students who did just that.

A moment struck her during the summit when the emcee asked students to stand if they were presently dealing with mental illness.

“It was a powerful moment to see them stand up in that large group. I got a bit emotional – I’m so proud of them for standing up and being so brave,” said Theriault.

“Five years ago, ten years ago, these kids would not have stood up. That speaks volumes about the support they now have.”

Helm agreed, saying he would have learned a lot from such an event if they’d happened when he was in high school.

“My generation never had events like this, and never talked about it. We’re talking about it now, and people need to know they’re not alone,” he said.

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