Every social justice impacts mental health. Strength and hope-based approaches based on a lived experience and trauma-informed understanding of discrimination, inequity, disability and human rights and social justice issues that impact the social determinants of health provide the sense of clarity, optimism, and realistic appraisal of life and health challenges needed to create healthy and equitable communities.
“Critical hope” that provides the action to situations of despair requires an understanding of the complexities of life and health challenges and pressures and the motivators, interests, passions and needs of individuals. Without the focus on individual needs and realities, we deny the voice, experience, sense of agency and awareness for individuals to shape their own experiences of mental health and wellness. Too often we have denied youth the opportunity to express themselves, their needs, identities, goals. The path to healthy functioning must be shaped by youth with input from their families as they navigate their way to an accessible and meaningful expression of hope.
Sheryl Boswell is the director of Youth Mental Health Canada, a community-based, youth-led non-profit organization. She has an extensive background in education at all levels and is a fierce advocate and human rights champion for an equitable, accessible, quality public education. As an educator, Sheryl has taught elementary, secondary, postsecondary and adult education in Canada and Africa. Intersectionality, equity and inclusion are central to how she approaches education and mental health research, policy and youth, family and community engagement. She is a suicide loss survivor and a child and youth mental health expert with over 20 years of lived and learned experience of mental health issues, suicidology, school phobia, avoidance and non-attendance at school. She feels that non-attendance at school due to mental health disabilities and exclusion is the most pressing issue in youth mental health and suicide prevention. YMHC has conducted research on this issue and has input from over 400 families. Sheryl has done international research on “school refusal” and recognizes the lack of lived experience informing “school refusal” research, resulting in inconclusive evidence and results.