From mock debate to the House of Commons
Jayden Paquet-Noiseux says all eight million Canadian kids have a right to better mental health.
In an effort to work toward that goal, the 16-year-old from Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec, participated in a mock debate online on March 5, organized by the Young Canadians’ Parliament (YCP).
The YCP is a group of Canadians under the age of 18 who meet virtually to discuss their rights and share their views with government officials.
‘Children aren’t listened to’: Group hopes to bring kids’ issues to government
During the debate, Jayden shared his reasons for promoting a new law that would put more money toward mental health resources, especially in schools.
“This is a tremendously important issue in our country,” he told CBC Kids News.
Jayden’s proposal is one of many that are being passed to Canada’s members of Parliament (MPs), with the hope that they will take issues impacting youth seriously.
As for the Canadian government, it says it’s already taking steps to improve mental health services for kids.
Preparing to debate the new law
Jayden and other YCP members spent eight months preparing for the mock debate.
They learned about how bills are passed in Parliament and communicated with various policymakers and parliamentarians.
Parliament is a group of officials, including members of Parliament (MPs) and senators, who work together to create laws that affect all Canadians.
And a bill is a proposal for a new law, or a proposal to change existing law, that is presented for debate in Parliament.
Canada’s parliament hill
Parliament Hill is home to Canada’s federal government, where representatives from across Canada gather to make laws that affect the lives of every Canadian.
To craft the bill, Jayden and other YCP members said they relied on personal knowledge and data from organizations and hospitals.
“Seventy percent of people living with a mental illness experience symptoms before 18,” Jayden said.
Jayden says the Canadian government needs to take youth mental health more seriously.
“Also, waiting periods can last up to 919 days — or 2½ years — for people to get help, which is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be that long.”
Those issues have only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jayden said, adding that some of his friends have been “hit harder than others.”
As the world marks the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, he said more needs to be done to ensure that kids who need help get it.
After all that research, Jayden was ready to propose the new law — and defend it — during the mock debate.
“All my anticipation led up to [that] moment,” Jayden said, recalling how he was feeling before beginning his opening arguments for Bill 138: Proper Access to Mental Health.
“I was a bit stressed, but in the end, it went pretty well.”
Members of the Young Canadians’ Parliament are seen here participating in a mock debate on March 5.
How would the new law work?
Jayden said the goal of the new bill would be to increase funding for resources to care for people suffering from mental illnesses.
“Overall, this bill would greatly improve mental health resources for all teams across the country living to improve the quality of life for all citizens,” Jayden said during the debate.
Among several recommendations in his bill, he included a new rule to evaluate therapists and counsellors annually to ensure they are qualified and following the proper regulations.
Bill 138 aims to address several issues around mental health, including increasing the number of jobs for helpline staff and Indigenous counsellors.
This suggestion was met with rebuttals from the opposition during the mock debate. They said the extra step would be unnecessary.
But Jayden disagreed, sharing his own experience of when he sought counselling and was disappointed by the result.
“In the past, I’ve been bullied a lot,” he said. “I tried seeing a therapist and they put the blame on me for what happened.”
Had the therapist been evaluated more frequently, Jayden said he might have had a different experience.
What’s next for Bill 138?
The majority of debate attendees voted in favour of Bill 138.
The bill is now part of a YCP report that highlights key issues impacting youth and makes recommendations to Parliament as to how they might address them.
That report, which also touches on affordable housing and climate change, will be sent to every member of Parliament.
Whether they decide to pick up Bill 138 remains to be seen, but Jayden said the government needs to do more to address the issue of mental health.
Jayden’s research showed that 70 percent of people living with a mental illness experience symptoms before they turn 18.
“[Mental health] is something we don’t really talk about because there’s a lot of stigmas related to it,” said Jayden, who was acting as the minister of mental health during the mock debate.
Stigma is a set of negative and often unfair beliefs associated with a person or topic, such as mental health.
“We thought it was something we needed to shed more light on.”
What is the government doing?
CBC Kids News reached out to Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s first mental health minister, to get her take on the bill.
“It is so great to see young people engaging in such important topics as we continue to fight this pandemic,” the minister’s office said a statement.
Bennett said that improving mental health for youth is long overdue, which is why the federal government announced a change of its own on March 14.
The government will work with the Standards Council of Canada to ensure mental health services are standardized, Bennett said.
Standardizing those services means ensuring there aren’t any inconsistencies or gaps in the quality of care that people receive.
Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s first mental health minister, says the pandemic has been hard on kids, who have been restricted from seeing their friends.
“We know that it’s been difficult throughout the pandemic,” the statement said. “We want young people, and all Canadians, to know that resources are available.”
One of those resources is a new app called PocketWell, which was designed specifically for kids.
Through the app, Kids Help Phone delivers one-on-one counselling via phone and text lines so that youth can access services tailored to their needs.
Debate attendees passed Jayden’s bill on March 5. Now Canada’s members of Parliament will consider his recommendations.
Meanwhile, Jayden hopes the parliamentarians will take the YCP’s bill seriously, saying that young people “have a certain point of view [parliamentarians] don’t have.”
He is encouraging young people to get involved and share their voices by sending letters to local MPs about issues that matter to them.
“Just join different programs and [voice] your opinion, and hopefully you’ll be heard,” he said.
By Arjun Ram | CBC Kids News