Participatory Community Asset Mapping for Rural Youth Mental Health in Wellington County, Ontario
Health Promotion , Mental health , Youth , Rural , Therapeutic Landscapes
Context and Purpose: In Canada, the mental health of youth has become a growing cause for concern as many young people are unable to access adequate services and are left to deal with the negative consequences of untreated mental illnesses. In health promotion, a promising direction to understanding what youth need to support their mental health and wellness is to employ participatory methods that empower youth and ensure their voices and experiences are accounted for in policies and programs. The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the perspectives of available mental health “assets” among youth living in the predominantly rural context of Wellington County in Southwestern Ontario. Methods: Recruiting a team of six youth through local partnerships, we engaged in a series of asset mapping sessions to locate places in Wellington County that are supportive of their mental health. I also conducted several interviews with both the youth researchers and community service providers to get their perspectives on both the findings of the asset mapping sessions as well as on Wellington County’s capacity to support youth mental health. Findings: The youth researchers found that informal everyday sources of support like outdoor outlets, engaging in exercise, and spending meaningful time with others are important for their wellbeing. Both the youth researchers and community service providers agreed that in the past, Wellington County has not always been the best place for youth mental health in terms of support, but they believe recent community-wide changes in attitudes towards mental health make them hopeful for the future. Implications: Our findings support the view that place-based strengths can be a part of community solutions for improved health and wellbeing for youth. Our study adds to the evidence on how health and wellbeing supports are not only be experienced in clinical or professional settings, but that seemingly ordinary everyday community interactions also have the power to help our young people thrive mentally.