The Future is Bright, Youth Make it Brighter: 5 Reasons You Need Youth at the Table
On June 1, 2020, Cannabis and Psychosis: Exploring the Link launched its inaugural “Ask the Expert” series in partnership with YouthREX. Clementine Utchay and Amina Hagar, both Research Assistants at YouthREX, co-hosted the webinar.
Cannabis and Psychosis: Exploring the Link stems from the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, which works to alleviate the effects of early psychosis, schizophrenia, and related mental health disorders. Exploring the Link aims to create a hub for youth to access and engage with information about cannabis and mental health that is balanced and meets their needs. The project is made up of a Scientific Advisory Council and Youth Advisory Council (or YAC, pictured above), who are very much committed to presenting accurate and reliable information for youth to make their own informed decisions about cannabis use. The YAC includes research, outreach, planning and evaluation, and digital working groups in order to empower youth to use their skills and knowledge across the project. The resources on their website highlight crisis and distress support, mental health and psychosis resources, cannabis resources, and interviews from experts in the field of cannabis and psychosis.
After the webinar, I sat down with Ilyas Khamis, who is part of the digital working group creating content to increase the public’s awareness, to talk about what youth engagement means for him and his team. He emphasized how both science and the lived experiences of youth are valuable when exploring the link between cannabis use, mental health, and psychosis. For Ilyas, eliminating the stigma that comes with cannabis use is an important step towards education and self-efficacy.
Ilyas discussed why it is important to engage youth, and how you can do so effectively. Here are 5 reasons why you need to meaningfully engage youth:
1. If it involves us, we need to be involved.
Not just as a photo-op, not just at the sidelines, not just in the consultation phase to get our opinion and then complete the project without us. Programs must fully commit to a long-term, equal collaboration between youth and the rest of the team.
“Nothing about us, without us” is one of the key values Exploring the Link uses throughout this youth-initiated, youth-driven, and youth-focused project.
2. Young people are more likely to bring new ideas.
Youth are more likely to bring a different perspective or approach to a conversation. Exploring the Link’s new “Ask the Expert” series gives youth the opportunity to ask questions directly to a credentialed expert. This gives youth a chance to be heard by raising ideas and concerns in their own words.
3. Our ability to access and share information.
With new ways for online communication, youth now have information at the tips of our fingers, through Facebook, Twitter, and other apps and websites. Scare tactics don’t work anymore because of our ability to fact-check. Exploring the Link’s approach guides youth to make informed decisions without propaganda, without judgement, and without BS.
4. Our voice is (just as) powerful.
Amplifying and supporting youth voices when sharing their ideas gives youth the chance to advocate for their needs in a supportive environment.
5. We are the future – so today’s efforts should reflect our vision for the future.
Ten to 20 years from now, youth will be the ones leading our nation. Meaningful youth engagement, participation, and collaboration ensures we have the opportunity to gain the tools, knowledge, and capacity we need to lead.
Ilyas ends our conversation by describing the significance of youth leadership and engagement to his team’s work: “The foundation of being able to honour the science, the lived experience, and youth being able to reach out to youth – combining all three into a harm-reduction base message that isn’t looking to stigmatize people, isn’t looking to marginalize people, isn’t looking to discount anyone’s life experiences. With this campaign, we’re only looking to help build that self-efficacy, we are only looking to get information out, we’re only looking to empower the people who engage with our website and our resources, and our social media, to be more informed and be able to use that information for their own positive outcomes.”
For more information, check out the related resources below. YouthREX also offers a free, online cannabis education certificate for youth workers, and a Featured Collection on cannabis use resources on their Knowledge Hub.
Look for a post by Amina on Thursday about the lessons learned from the “Ask the Expert” event we co-hosted!