CMHA Community Educator Naaz Grewal is organizing a series of Youth Community Dialogues in Vernon, Armstrong and Lumby. (Photo contributed)

Vernon CMHA launches dialogue series about youth suicide and opioid crisis

Events will be held in Vernon, Armstrong and Lumby.

As the opioid crisis persists, CMHA Vernon & District Branch has partnered with local organizations, physicians and community leaders in Vernon, Armstrong and Lumby to combat this crisis that has devastated so many families.

Executive Director of CMHA Vernon & District Julia Payson explained that these Youth Community Dialogues for Armstrong, Lumby and Vernon will be an early intervention and prevention project for youth to address substance use, mental health promotion and suicide prevention.

“The goal of this intervention is to change the way individuals and service providers respond to community education, public policy advocacy and stigma as a barrier to services,” she said.

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Statistics show that addictions are one of the most dangerous and destructive issues facing youth today. Recent reports found that 85 per cent of Canadian teenagers have consumed alcohol and 50 per cent have consumed illegal drugs. The most at-risk to develop addictions are youth under the age of 25.

“The community-centred nature of the forums will address topics that are of the greatest concern in our region for vulnerable youth populations,” said Payson.

She said that each panel will include parents, community leaders and relevant stakeholders, with forums open to the entire community.

“Raising families in smaller, close-knit communities may lead us to believe that our youth will be sheltered from some of the negative influences of big-city life,” said Payson. “Unfortunately, rural youth are often at an increased risk as their communities often struggle due, not to a lack of caring, but because of a lack of resources.”

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse Urban and Rural Student Substance Use Report, results from several Canadian surveys suggest that students who attend schools in rural areas, when compared to their urban peers are more likely to: drink alcohol, binge drink (have five or more drinks on one occasion), drive after drinking alcohol or using cannabis.

“Through early intervention and prevention, we can empower our youth with knowledge, resilience and the support and resources needed to make healthy life choices and be a positive influence on their peers,” said Payson.

CMHA Vernon partnered with more than 10 local groups to establish the forums in these three communities.

“We are pleased to have the support of our Local Action Team of the North Okanagan Child and Youth Mental Health Substance Use Collaborative (CYMHSU) and other local youth organizations who worked alongside CMHA to help develop this important community project.”

Speakers at the three forums include adult and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. David Smith, Michelle Thiessen, a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at UBCO and Dobra Vistica, Clinician at Interior Health. The Armstrong forum will include Public Health Nurse Wendy Morgan. Panel guests will also include medical practitioners, youth care providers, community leaders and individuals with lived experience.

Each forum in the communities of Armstrong, Lumby and Vernon will feature a resource fair showcasing resources available for youth, parents and caregivers in their community, free naloxone training provided by Interior Health, and a light dinner and refreshments.

The first forum takes place in Vernon on Jan. 23 at the Marie Fleming Theatre in the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre. The Armstrong forum will be held at the Centennial Hall on February 12, and the Lumby forum will take place at the Whitevalley Community Centre on March 12. Each forum will run from 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm, and include a resource fair, panel discussion, group participant discussions, refreshments and free naloxone training provided by Interior Health.

Youth Community Dialogues for Armstrong, Lumby and Vernon, has generously received $15,000 in funding for this project from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) based out of the University of Victoria.

To register or for additional information, contact Naaz Grewal at 250-542-3114 ext 226 or email

Related: Vernon CMHA video showcases community support

Related: New leadership at CMHA

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