All grown up: mental health initiative returns to SFU

September 24, 2019

By Kevin Cherney

A grassroots mental-health program with origins at Simon Fraser University has come full circle. 

What started as a pilot project by SFU alumnus Elizabeth Sabine just four years ago is now a YMCA program spanning 25 partner organizations including, most recently, SFU.

Sabine designed the Youth Mindfulness Group (Y-Mind) to improve mental health services for youth. This summer, SFU partnered with the YMCA to bring Y-Mind to the Surrey campus, where students can learn healthy coping skills, practice mindfulness to manage their anxiety, and connect with peers in a safe, welcoming environment.

The partnership, supported by the SFU Surrey-TD Community Engagement Centre, SFU’s Faculty of Education, SFU Health and Counselling and the SFU Surrey Campus executive director’s office, includes a practicum for an SFU counselling psychology student.

“Mental health is critical to an overall happy and healthy life and we are very pleased to be partnering with the YMCA deliver the Youth Mindfulness program,” says Rachel Nelson, associate director, partnerships and programs at SFU.

“This program not only makes a positive difference in the lives of young people in our community, but it also provides community-engaged experiential learning for SFU students pursuing this line of work.”

Sabine, equipped with a master’s degree in counselling psychology from SFU, created Y-Mind with co-founder Anuschka Naidoo after identifying mental health barriers such as high treatment costs, long appointment wait times, and geographic isolation. Together, they developed the pilot curriculum for youth aged 13-30 suffering mild-to-moderate anxiety symptoms.

After the successful pilot, the B.C. Ministry of Health granted the program $3 million to expand its services to 25 sites across the province.

“Mindfulness is particularly helpful for anxiety because when we’re anxious we’re often projecting ourselves into the future,” says Sarah Blackmore, SFU MA counselling psychology alumnus and current manager of YMCA Greater Vancouver Mental Wellness Programs.

“Mindfulness is about re-engaging with the present moment.”

One Y-Mind participant says, “I’ve really learned how to use my anxiety as a tool. Instead of anticipating or resisting it, I’ve become more mindful and curious about it. I feel a lot more at peace with my thoughts now.”

The YMCA is recruiting program participants between the ages of 18-30 to take part in the seven-week program. The groups convene at the Surrey City Centre Library in partnership with SFU. If you or anyone you know may be interested in participating, please contact [email protected].

The Teen Mindfulness Group (ages 13-17) will begin again this fall in both Vancouver and Surrey. For this program please contact [email protected].

This story was adapted from SFU’s Faculty of Education research hub blog. To learn more about the story behind Y-Mind, be sure to read From Grassroots Pilot Project to a Province-Wide Success: The Story behind YMCA’s Y-Mind Program.

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