Young people in Yellowknife gathered downtown on Monday for a wellness walk to raise awareness around addictions and mental health. It was part of a kick off to national addictions awareness week.
It started at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, the organization that puts on the yearly event.
Denise Hurley, a program support teacher at École Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife, is the supervisor for a student-led mental health advocacy group called MAGMA — Magnanimous Advocates Generating Mental Health Awareness.
“It’s an important event for us to kind of get behind and support because we really think that mental health is linked to addictions and awareness,” Hurley said.
She said the need for awareness is “huge.”
“We really need to come together as a community. And that was the focus of the event this year of the wellness walk, was caring communities,” Hurley said. “If we’re going to improve our mental health as a community, we need everyone involved. No one’s alone.”
Hannah Vu, one of the young people on the walk, said that as the group walked along, there were lots of cars honking in support, and “lots of smiles” and words of encouragement from onlookers. People also snapped videos and pictures of them, she said.
“I think that mental health matters. It doesn’t matter what the feelings you are feeling — they’re always valid,” Vu said.
“There’s always support everywhere … Another thing too with our advocacy group, is talking about other support systems and normalizing that it’s OK to talk about those things that are considered stigmatized.”
Apollo Sevigny was also among the young people participating in the walk. Sevigny said the Northwest Territories is in a state of mental health crisis and feels “very little being done about it.”
“We’re not seeing many changes at just a community level. So this walk is important, because if no one else is taking action then we have to,” said Sevigny.
She added more fundraising by the government and other organizations would help bring in more mental health professionals.
“We need help. And we’re just kids, we can’t do all of this by ourselves.”
Katelyn Browley said mental health can be particularly important for more isolated communities, like Yellowknife.
“It’s just like a really small community in the middle of nowhere. So, mental health is extra important, I guess,” he said.
“When COVID and everything shut down, it was a huge impact [on people]. And now, everybody’s showing support, and it’s really cool.”
Another young person, Kat Saunders, added that winter can be particularly challenging for people and it’s helpful to shine a light on the impacts it can have.
“It gets really dark here in the winter, and some people aren’t great with that. So it can be really tough on their mental health,” Saunders said. “It’s really good to show that you know, everyone’s feelings are valid.”