By: Shelley Jensen, Kids and Teens in Control Lead Program Coordinator

Anticipating a day of filming, an excited group of pre-teens and teens jump into my car giggling and full of energy.  After several focus group meetings with the project management team, videographers and BCSS Director of Operations and Programs, the group is ready to see their vision come to life. These talented young people have been passionate advocates for the BC Schizophrenia Society, and the opportunity to have their voices heard on the subject of Cannabis and Mental Illness was empowering!

The stars of this project are four youth and three “trusted adults.” Some of the youth who participated had been previous participants of the Kids and Teens in Control programs and now attended the drop-in support groups for young people with a loved one living with a serious mental illness. One participant graduated from the Teens in Control group and have since become a valuable Peer Facilitator for other youth in our programs.

When we arrived at Beaumont Studios, a funky Vancouver studio, we were fascinated by the interesting and ornate artwork that was displayed throughout the space. And soon after we walked through the doors, everyone scattered throughout the two story building to explore the amazing sculptures, artwork – taking it all in with awe.

The filming took place in a large room full of lights and cameras; a table of snacks laid out for the youth and adults to munch on through the day; and off to the side, a graphic artist with a large sheet of paper on a pad, who we learned would visually animate the conversation throughout the day. (Insert photos here)

Once the cameras started rolling the excitement increased! Dr. Debbie Thompson was the “expert du jour” and  provided insight while facilitating the conversation between the youth and the trusted adults.

We started with some general conversation and small talk between the youth and the trusted adults. Everyone felt a little shy, but the warm environment provided by the crew soon helped everyone ease into the deeper and tougher conversation topics. Basic questions about favourite hobbies and school activities provided comfort before the conversation turned to finding out what the youth knew about cannabis. Most of the youth knew very little about the impacts of cannabis and no knowledge of the link between cannabis and mental illness.

Debbie began to explain to the youth the impact of cannabis on the brain, mental illness and particularly psychosis. The youth asked thoughtful and honest questions, and having an expert like Debbie on hand  provided a great platform for the youth to ask their burning questions. Debbie helped them understand the impact of cannabis on their bodies in an informed way, and explained how cannabis may increase the risk of psychosis for those with a pre-existing vulnerability to mental illness. Soon, the youth engaged even more with the discussion and had many “Ah-ha!” moments, all leading to clear and definitive answers about how they may be more vulnerable to risks.

And as the discussion happened, the artist animated the conversation with skill and precision, helping anchor and connect the information received. (insert photos here of animated drawings)

“It was so fun and interesting to learn about this from a scientific perspective.”

Youth Participant

Once the initial filming and animations were complete, the youth gathered to review the drawings. They were then asked to point out the most important pieces that they took away from the day. The artist then outlined the areas of significance and developed them into one final masterpiece.

“I loved the graphic design going on in the background, it made it easier to understand how it all pieced together.”

Youth Participant

Over lunch, laughter rang throughout the building as the youth raced around the yard and played games. And I noted how young they really were, yet they had already been exposed to drugs and cannabis in both elementary and middle schools. They knew who the dealers were, and who used cannabis regularly, yet they knew nothing about the impact it could have on their young and still developing brains.

“I was shocked to learn how many young people were using and how readily available they are too elementary and middle school kids. I feel proud that I could be a part of a project that will help bring awareness to the effects of cannabis on a developing brain”

Adult Participant

It quickly became apparent how important this information is to the youth. They could see the value of incorporating it into their conversations with parents and schools. Youth are not able to make informed decisions when they are facing peer pressure and a lack of information. I am very inspired by this group of young people, and grateful to have been part of this project.

“I feel so lucky to have someone even ask me what I think about this stuff, now I know a lot more.”

Youth Participant

The day ended with everyone feeling tired, but inspired, and the drive home was filled with more questions. The entire group came together as an informed community and learned a lot, and the youth left feeling strong, informed and confident. They felt understood, trusted and heard, but above all, they felt empowered.

It was an amazing experience to come together and work in unison. The youth shared their experiences with each other and knew that everyone who was there made an impact”

Adult Participant

Even though there were other mental health professionals there, we all left with a new piece of knowledge, all thanks to these young ladies. Their willingness to share and learn showed a wisdom beyond their years. And through this wonderful experience, we were able to start conversations about the correlation between cannabis and mental illness.

This video provided the opportunity for us to listen to our youth and provide them with education to help them make informed decisions. Through being part of a community with purpose, I know that this has impacted these youth in a way that will never be forgotten.

We’re excited that we will be sharing this video at the beginning of October, if you would like to learn more about this video or a Kids & Teen in Control program, email kidsincontrol@bcss.org.