Youth Are Talking About Mental Health

TNC_Website_programBoys and Girls Clubs across Canada have repeatedly and increasingly identified a need for mental health resources and programming.  AstraZeneca (AZ) supports a wide range of community mental health initiatives and programs and has partnered with Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada (BGCC) to develop a national program specific to the Club context. BGCC contracted Taylor Newberry (TNC) Consulting to develop the program. We were so excited! This project has been a perfect opportunity for us to blend our research and intervention experience with our passion to support youth health and wellbeing.

Over the past year and a half we have worked with BGCC, AZ and a steering committee of Clubs to pull the program together. The trick was to develop a program that was universal in its focus (it’s for everyone), accessible and engaging for youth, flexible and varied to match Club needs, and that could be delivered by Club staff and youth leaders. Sound easy? It wasn’t. Although in the end we think (and Clubs have told us through pilot testing and evaluation) that we have done a bang up job. Here are some key factors that have led to the program’s success. Oh ya-the program has been named “Flex Your Head!”.

Flex Your Head! builds on existing strengths. Recent policy recommendations suggest that participatory models of youth engagement drive program development and delivery (e.g., WHO, Mental Health Commission of Canada).  BGGC is way ahead in this regard! Youth engagement and leadership is a central part of the BGCC model, so we were able to build on what Clubs are already doing well. We created a program that capitalizes on peer leadership as well as supports peer to peer relationships, dialogue, and support.

We didn’t just make the program up.  While we pride ourselves on being clever and creative, we didn’t just pull Flex Your Head! out of thin air. A clinical psychologist with a focus on adolescence (Dr. Melanie Parkin) joined the TNC team to ensure the program was informed by best and promising clinical practices.  While Flex Your Head! is a mental health prevention and promotion program and not a clinical or treatment program, it was important to ground the program in theory and research. Through  Melanie’s guidance and the completion of a comprehensive research review,  Cognitive Theory, Acceptance and Mindfulness Theory, Interpersonal Theory, and Anti-Stigma Awareness & Education became the foundation of the program.

Flex Your Head! has reasonable goals and objectives. We thought long and hard about what we specifically hope to achieve through this program. In TNC language, we would say we thought long and hard about the theory of change-given the theoretical underpinnings of the program, what do we hope to achieve and how do we hope to achieve it?  

We take the stance that positive mental health is not an absence of depression, anxiety or pain. Positive mental health is about embracing a range of mental experiences, some pleasant and some not, and being able to pursue a meaningful life. Children and youth will show greater success in this pursuit if they are able to do so in safe, inclusive, and respectful environments.

In line with this understanding of mental health, the program has four key objectives.

  1. To provide staff with helpful information on youth mental health and assist them in locating resources and training as needed so that they feel more comfortable talking about mental health issues with youth.
  2. To create awareness and enhance understanding of mental health and mental illness among youth members.
  3. To help youth develop strategies to cope with stress, promote healthy relationships, and understand the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
  4. To help youth translate their understanding of mental health into positive, anti-stigma attitudes and actions in their Clubs and communities.

These objectives seem reasonable to us, because….

…..Flex Your Head! isn’t boring. To meet the objectives above, program theory and key messages are woven into fun, engaging activities that are play-based and representative of typical youth Club activities. In other words, the program isn’t a snooze fest. Youth actively engage with the content in a way that supports curiosity, reflection, and learning. They also do this in a place they already trust.

Flex Your Head! isn’t rigid. To make sure the program would match the Club context, a module format was used. There are a total of 12 modules in the program and each module has specific goals. Flex Your Head! is not a curriculum, whereby youth need to complete one module into order to benefit from the next. While outcomes are best supported when the full program is delivered, if a Club wants to complete a few modules, or a few activities from a few modules, then who are we to stop them? Clubs know what Clubs need and we have done our best to provide them with the tools to meet those needs.

We could go on about why we are excited about Flex Your Head! and how we think it will support change for youth across the country. However, let’s save  that discussion for when the full evaluation report has been completed. Twenty five Clubs across the country have been trained to deliver Flex Your Head! and are planning to run it this year.  A comprehensive evaluation is being  implemented alongside the roll-out of the program. We’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, if you have questions please get in touch!

Talk soon,


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