EJ Weston knew something was wrong in middle school but wasn’t quite sure what it was.
She didn’t understand why she was sad all of the time and couldn’t find enjoyment in anything she did. After being directed to a counsellor at Pacific Centre Family Services Association by a teacher, she was able to talk about some of the things she was experiencing. While it was great to have someone to talk to once a week, Weston admits she didn’t feel any better.
It’s only then that she realized she was suffering from depression.
“It’s like walking with a broken ankle, you can walk and it’s going to hurt, but it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse and you won’t be able to walk in a couple of years,” said the now 18-year-old, who is raising awareness about mental health next week.
She was also suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of trauma she went through as a child.
It was only after attending her final year at Royal Bay Secondary school that she decided to get help at the West Shore Child Youth and Family Services Society on Wale Road.
While Weston is still dealing with depression, she hopes youth facing similar challenges will be able to access the services they need to deal with mental health issues. That’s why she’s organizing the third annual Start the Conversation Conference at Royal Bay, with the goal of connecting youth with physical, mental and emotional health resources.
As part of the conference, roughly 18 to 20 community organizations across Greater Victoria and Vancouver, including Girl Gang Body Positivity, the Umbrella Society, Pacific Centre Family Services Association, Threshold Society, AIDS Vancouver Island and Island Sexual Health, will set up booths at the school.
In addition, mental health advocate Shilpa Narayanan from Vancouver will make two morning presentations to students, where she’ll talk about her own mental health journey. Acupuncture and yoga will also be available.
“What I want youth to take away is that it’s something that we’re talking about. They’re not abnormal if they’re going through this and to give them resources to access this stuff. Even if I help one person, then my job is done and I’ll be happy,” said Weston, noting it’s an event put on by youth for youth.
“It’s important to show the younger generations that this stuff is talked about because when I was in middle school, we didn’t talk about it and it would have helped a lot if I saw someone close to my age was organizing this at a school I was about to go to.”
On Feb. 27, Weston has also organized a panel discussion for parents with mental health professionals from 7 to 9 p.m. The Start the Conversation conference takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 28, the same date as Pink Shirt Day, and booths will be open from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Royal Bay’s learning commons.