Opening the minds of youth with art at CLSC de Parc-Extension

Drawing has been one of Zoa Gauthier’s favourite hobbies since she was 11 years old.

“If I have a pencil and a pad or paper nearby, I will sketch something,” says Zoa, now 15.

Recently, she put her sketching skills to work on a canvas much bigger than a notepad. Over eight months, during her weekly time at the youth space at ACCESS Open Minds CLSC de Parc-Extension, she collected inspiration and ideas from her peers along with the program’s art outreach facilitator Ana Duran. That way, everyone could feel as though they shared in the creation of the artwork she produced, and were reflected in it. The five-by-five-foot mural greets visitors at the entrance of the area dedicated to the youth program.

“For me, the artwork symbolizes this space,” she says.”People had proposed different ideas to me and one day I did a sketch in one of my notebooks. I based the final piece off of that, and thought of the colour scheme spontaneously. “The centre of the mural depicts a girl who is looking down contemplatively, with green trees and a leafy branch extending out of her head.

Zoa’s friend Nour added calligraphy to the piece, incorporating words and phrases in French chosen by other peers, including “Freedom” and “To be imaginative is to be creative in life”.

Zoa Gauthier from the CLSC de Parc-Extension ACCESS Open Minds program created an artwork based on ideas and inspiration from her peers.

ACCESS Open Minds is a Canada-wide program that provides youth between 11 and 25 years old timely access to mental health care. In Quebec, CLSC de Parc-Extension was among the first sites to launch the program, with a clinical team of social workers, under the supervision of Cécile Rousseau, the Scientific Director of SHERPA. These professionals, in collaboration with the Santé mental jeunesse team, provide not only care on site, but collaborate closely with schools, community organizations and the healthcare system to improve the delivery of youth mental health care. A youth-friendly and non-stigmatizing approach ensures the early detection of mental health problems and offers timely access to situation-appropriate care.

Each program site offers a youth space—a safe area where participants can drop in without an appointment and socialize. Staff on site accompany the youth in their exploration of their daily lives and mental well-being, in a warm and inclusive environment. Various therapeutic activities are offered, from cooking, to art and music therapy.

“The activities that take place during the drop-in space are often determined by the youths,” says Emmanuelle Bolduc, Site Coordinator at ACCESS Open Minds Parc-Extension. “They choose pastimes they enjoy, ones that provide a valuable shared experience and benefit their well-being.”

“The program has helped me a lot with socialization,” affirms Zoa, who’s been visiting the youth space for almost two years.”Before I came here, I mostly kept to myself. Now, I have a much easier time talking to people, I’m more extroverted.”

While many participants point to ACCESS Open Minds Parc-Extension’s youth space as a great way to meet new people and socialize, Ms. Bolduc adds that for others, it’s a break from their daily routine where they can explore their emotions, experiences and learning, in a context of sharing between peers.

“I love how the adults are not really teachers so much as friends,” says Zoa.”The environment is also welcoming and well-balanced, because we offer scheduled activities but also free time.”

“The program is flexible and adapted to the lives of youth,” says Ms. Bolduc. “Mental health services need to keep up with this generation’s technological state.” As such, ACESSS Open Minds Parc-Extension has a Facebook page where its participants can interact and stay up to date on scheduled activities. Team members also provide their cell phone numbers and a work email so youth can more easily communicate with them.

ACCESS Open Minds Parc-Extension has helped Zoa to feel less isolated. “Before, I always thought I was alone,” she says.”But being here, I’ve learned that there are others with similar problems to me, and also with similar ideas. Here, you feel understood and supported.”

The ACCESS Open Minds Parc-Extension youth space is accessible without an appointment, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.