When Shauna Lilly was asked to give a presentation on mental health at Halifax West High School, she immediately realized she had an opportunity to reach out to youth by sharing a personal story of grief and healing.
“On Easter Sunday, 2015, my dad lost his battle with mental illness. He committed the act of suicide and I’m not ashamed to share this. My dad suffered in silence he was too proud to reach out for help,” Lilly expressed to a group of students.
There are around 1,500 students at Halifax West and all of them dedicated a full day to mental health awareness, an initiative that was sparked and organized by the students themselves.
“We have people speaking on different types of mental illness. How to be healthy in general, nutrition, yoga and lots of sleep tactics and stuff like that,” Lauren Gray said, a grade 12 student.
Gray and her peers had the opportunity to listen and interact with presenters like Lilly, on a topic they recognize comes with immense amounts of stigma.
“We may know or sense that someone is dealing with something but we don’t want to question them on it and they’re afraid to open up to you but really people shouldn’t feel that way, they shouldn’t feel weak for feeling what they’re feeling. They should feel like they can open up to someone and get the help that they need,” Cassidy Nash said, a grade 12 student.
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The annual event hopes to break down communication barriers when it comes to mental health discussions and create an atmosphere where students feel safe.
“I do believe that there should be more spaces and just safe environments for people to go to and I think this is really helping that,” Natalie Yeadon said, another grade 12 student.
A message of hope, Lilly hopes resonates with students if they’re ever experiencing a time they feel the need to ask for help.
“If you are struggling or you know someone who is struggling, it is okay to ask for help, you are not alone. Every single one of you in this room matters.”