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Partners for Life Gives Teens New Hope

Much to his surprise, 22-year-old Carlos has helped save Quebec teens and reduced depression in young people. It all started two years ago, when he applied for a job with the Partners for Life program. “I was reading the paper and saw an ad looking for an activity leader for teenagers. It involved lots of travel throughout Quebec. Wow, that looked interesting! So I signed on,” he says.

Reaching out to teens

Turns out, Carlos was one of ten young people hired to deliver the program offered by the Quebec Mental Illness Foundation and funded in part by RBC. The program tours Quebec high schools to raise awareness of mental health issues and help prevent teen depression – a major factor in teen suicide and high school drop-out rates. Partners for Life reaches out to 60,000 young people annually and focuses on educating and empowering teens to recognize the signs of depression and realize that help is available.

“A key aspect of this program is the fact that it’s young people speaking to other young people in a dynamic, even humorous style that they can relate to,” says executive director Catherine Burrows. “The young presenters are seen as cool, and they help teens understand what depression is and that it’s okay to seek help.”

In Quebec alone, five to ten per cent of teenagers suffer from depression. Since its inception, the program has identified more than 14,000 teens in distress, and contributed to a 50 per cent reduction in the teen suicide rate in the province.

“There may be other contributing factors at play too, but clearly the program has had an impact,” explains Burrows. “It’s a program that saves lives,” says one teacher in Beaconsfield, Quebec.

It’s satisfying to know that you’re making a difference

For Carlos, it goes far beyond numbers, stats and money. “Partners for Life is a teenager looking you in the eye and thanking you for explaining that he’s not crazy. A tough guy who walks into the classroom, makes fun of mental illness, and leaves thanking us. It’s the look of a teenager saying ‘Oh yeah? I can pull through this?”

The RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues. Since 2009, the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project has been our cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar, and to date, we have donated more than $6.5 million to more than 125 organizations across Canada.