Using art to express experiences with addiction, a group of Winnipeg high school students marked the third annual National Child and Youth Mental Health Day by exhibiting their work at the provincial legislative building.
About 20 students from Argyle Alternative displayed visual art, poetry, video projects and models, all meant to bring addiction and mental health issues into the open.
"It’s relatable," said Grade 12 student Ricki-Lynn Crain, whose dual drawing- and poetry-based piece depicts an individual in shadow, then facing the light.
Addiction and mental health are more complex than surface glances show, and many people have experienced some type of issue, Crain suggested.
"People can be addicted to the negative parts of themselves, because sometimes it’s all we’ve ever known."
Being part of the exhibition for youth mental health day, which Manitoba proclaimed provincially last year to be recognized each May 7, carries a lot of significance, Crain said.
"It does, because it means that we’re being heard, and our voices are loud."
Asked what they’d like to see improved for the future, Grade 12 student Ethan McInnes said it’s so important to ask young people how they’re doing. McInnes’ artwork portrayed a literal breathtaking moment — an example of their efforts to quit smoking cigarettes.
"I never talked about any of my struggles until someone asked me about it. Someone finally asked how I was doing, and that really changed how I felt about other people. It’s important to talk to youth about what they feel and what they want," McInnes said.
"A lot of our youth feel like they’re not being heard or that what they have to say isn’t important, (as if) we’re too young to know what life is like right now, but that’s not true. Our generation today has some of the hardest mental health issues, and for them to… give us a day where we can have recognition is amazing."
Rosetta Troia, a full-time addictions counsellor at Argyle Alternative for the Winnipeg School Division, said creating art and journalling are often part of therapy for mental health and addictions, and the creative outlet helps students learn and make change.
"These kids are incredible," she said. "They want to be heard. They care about their friends, they worry about their family.
"So if we give them the right information, these are the kids that are going to do it for us. They’re going to make the change and hopefully lower the rates of suicide and overdose," Troia said, adding youth still need more mental health resources.
"So when they finally say to a parent or guardian, ‘I need help,’ they’re not going somewhere being turned away because we don’t have enough beds."
The exhibition is being displayed in the rotunda at the legislative building, in partnership with KidThink mental health centre.
Radisson MLA James Teistma stood in for Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard at Friday’s event.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.