Girl Guides

Shine a light on mental health

Girl Guides of Canada to launch their new mental health program: Mighty Minds.

Candles will be lit across the country this Saturday for the Shine a Light on Mental Health event.   Katlyn Pettipas

Believe it or not, an orange named Aisha and some push pins are helping girls understand issues surrounding mental health.

The orange represents a new girl in the group and the other girls take turns saying mean things which hurts Aisha’s feelings. A pin gets put in the orange with every mean comment.

The girls then get a second chance.

They take turns saying something nice to Aisha and the pins are removed. Eventually the pins are gone, but the orange is still left with cuts and wounds.

Jill Zelmanovits, chief executive officer for Girl Guides of Canada, believes exercises like these will help young girls understand the complex topics surrounding mental health.

“Girls as young as eight really got that words hurt,” she says. “Once you say them (the words), you can’t take it back. Even if you say something positive afterwards, you’re making it better but that scar is still there.”

This activity is part of the new Mighty Minds program, created by the Girl Guides of Canada, a mental health initiative designed for girls aged five to 17.

Girl Guides of Canada is partnering with the Psychology Foundation of Canada and Kids Help Phone to create the program. It’s been two years in the making. They’ve been piloting the project for a few weeks, says Zelmanovits, and they’re ready to launch this Saturday.

Zelmanovits believes Mighty Minds doesn’t just start a conversation about mental health amongst the girls, but it also teaches coping skills.

She hopes girls will come away “thinking, ‘I’m not the only one who has positive mental health days and negative mental health days.’ It shows you what kind of coping skills you need to help you get through those bad days.”

According to the World Health Organization, about 50 per cent of mental health disorders arise by the time people are 14 years old.

Mighty Minds also helps younger girls understand complex topics surrounding mental health.

“Five-year-old girls don’t know words like ‘resilience’ or ‘stigma,’” said Zelmanovits. “These are really interesting activities where it’s not heavy … they come away with some of the important basics.”

This basic understanding will lead to more serious conversations in the program as girls get older, she adds — like cutting, suicidal thoughts and body image.

While the program was created for the different units in Girl Guides, a Mighty Minds program is public. It’s free and available to print online.

On Saturday, Jan. 21, Girl Guides from around the country will be hosting an event called Shine a Light on Mental Health. It’ll mark the official launch of the Mighty Minds program.

Kathy McKay, the provincial commissioner for Girl Guides of Canada in Nova Scotia, said she’s “expecting about 200 people at the event,” in NS.

McKay told The Signal the event will have “speakers, candles for everyone to light together, hot chocolate, some singing and activities for the girls.”

Shine a Light for Mental Health will be hosted in two places in Nova Scotia: Acadia Hall Park in Lower Sackville and the Civic Centre in Port Hawkesbury. The event is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and will end at 7 p.m.