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Mental Wellness Kits for At-Risk Youth

Q&A’s with Deea K Dev

Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?
I was born in Burnaby, Canada (BC) but my family moved to Singapore shortly after, so I was raised there. Singapore is a small country in Southeast Asia. In fact, it is so small that it is often depicted on world maps as just a red dot, resulting in our nickname, “Little red dot”. I moved back to BC to pursue my undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia, and I could not have made a better decision! I absolutely love Vancouver — its diversity, promotion of social justice, inclusivity, and lovely people! I am proud to call Vancouver my home now!

What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
Being in a position where I have the privilege to help individuals who do not have access to the same resources that I do, I have always strongly believed in using it to support vulnerable populations. I support youth at the Covenant House struggling with psychiatric disorders similar to my own, and first-generation immigrant youth of which I curate STEM mentorship programs. Despite being presented with similar obstacles and the same burning desire to overcome them, it is social privilege that separates our present circumstances. Hence, I am dedicated to supporting these groups who have fallen through the cracks, by involving myself in social causes and mobilizing other individuals to engage with these causes. One of the most valuable takeaways I have gained from interacting with these diverse populations is the intersectionality of mental health — the different identities that these individuals interconnect (which make them prone to discrimination and inequalities) contributing to their deteriorating wellbeing. Despite the differences in the nature of struggles they face, I always noted poor mental health being a common topic brought up in my conversations with them. I have been inspired to integrate my passions for neurosciences as well as helping vulnerable groups, whereby I hope to provide intersectional psychiatric care for these populations in the future.

How did the idea for this project come to you?
I was having a conversation with my friends about privilege, where we recognized how vulnerable populations in our community were being disproportionately affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. As individuals with lived experience of mental health problems, we were also talking about how challenging the pandemic could be on individuals struggling with their mental health for a myriad of reasons e.g., battling feelings of isolation during quarantine, coping with loss, and dealing with the stress of living in uncertain times. Through this conversation, we very organically decided to start an initiative to support the mental health of youth like ourselves, but those who were facing more complex sets of challenges on top of their mental health struggles — the rising homeless, runaway and at-risk youth population in the streets of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver.

What was your motivation behind this project?
As the pandemic had imposed demanding financial situations and challenging circumstances such as quarantine with abusive family members, the population of runaway and homeless youth seemed to be growing and finding themselves increasingly distressed. Moreover, the youth had to deal with reduced mental health support due to quarantine or social distancing measures, hence facing increased vulnerability to debilitating mental episodes, particularly youth who already struggled from psychiatric disorders (majority of these youth face depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder). As students well-versed in mental health care, my friends and I were aware of how mental health and wellness kits were becoming increasingly popular amidst individuals with mental health issues, as these kits equipped them with useful materials that could be accessed quickly during episodes, such as during an anxiety attack. Hence, we decided to create and distribute mental wellness kits that could serve as self-care tools for the homeless and at-risk youth population in the Downtown Eastside, consisting of items that have been known to provide relief to symptoms of mental disorders and issues. For example, items that stimulate the senses, allow channelling of anxious energy, encourage healthy coping methods, and curb sensory overload (scented ball, modelling clay, sour candy, mazes, notebooks, tea, earplugs). The kits also included flash cards with advice and tips informed by research for taking care of one’s mental wellbeing during the pandemic. Despite the challenge of implementing such a project during a pandemic (e.g., lack of in-person volunteers to assemble the kits due to strict measures), we were motivated by our own lived experiences and the recognition of just how difficult the circumstances were for homeless youth during this unprecedented time.

In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
We collaborated with the non-profit Covenant House Vancouver, an organization that provides resources in the form of shelter, food, mental health support and medical attention for runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. Working with Covenant House, our team was able to distribute curated mental wellness kits to 100 homeless and at-risk youth seeking their services. According to the staff at Covenant House who we were in communication with, the youth really appreciated the kits and how they served as a potent reminder for them to take care of their mental health in this challenging time during which they lack the social support they would otherwise have access to. They appreciated the support provided in helping them cope with the anxieties and stress of their situations.

How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?
This project allowed me to develop my leadership and organizational skills as there were many nitty-gritty details to take note of when creating kits that were made up of so many items — beginning from the purchase of the items, to the assembling, to the distribution, especially with a team of volunteers involved. I have gone on to support Covenant House in other capacities, such as leading a virtual fundraiser to raise awareness and donations to meet the increased demand of their services by the growing homeless and at-risk youth population. I have also been able to apply these skills and experiences in other community service projects, such as starting an organization to develop opportunities that would make STEM more accessible for young immigrants and refugees in Vancouver. The skills that I obtained from leading this #RisingYouth project have stuck with me, allowing me spearhead various initiatives that would support vulnerable populations in our community.

What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
The prospect of taking charge of a project as a youth can often be intimidating, but #RisingYouth honestly made this process so smooth for me! There is a network of staff present to support you at every step, from the conception of your idea to the execution, and this provides you with a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community and hone further skills for future community service and engagement efforts!



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