‘Inspiring Hope’ at the Atlantic Summer Institute

The Atlantic Summer Institute on Healthy and Safe Communities (ASI) Policy Forum brings together members of community groups, researchers, practitioners, educators and government representatives with a focus on promoting the mental health of infants, children and youth. Members of the KDE Hub attended the 2023 ASI to connect with colleagues in Atlantic Canada and learn with this growing community of mental health promotors. The 2023 theme was Inspiring Hope through Community Action. Community leaders across Atlantic Canada and beyond shared their experiences in working towards positive change including through influencing upstream policy.

The keynote conversation, with Dr. Brenda Restoule and Tyler Simmons, highlighted mental health journeys from two perspectives – Indigenous peoples and racialized populations. Both speakers illustrated the importance of history and the impacts of intergenerational trauma, as well as the importance of culture and language in achieving a sense of belonging, identity, and mental wellness. They demonstrated how wellness can be achieved through collective action and innovation.

One of the objectives of the event was to increase the profile and uptake of the ASI policy brief released in March 2022. The policy brief advocates for a commitment to transformative change, challenging leaders (provincial, federal, municipal and Indigenous leaders) to undertake fundamental changes in the way healthy public policy is built. Over the summer of 2023, a series of meetings were held in each of the four Atlantic provinces bringing together stakeholders with a vested interest in mental health policy to mobilize the implementation of the ASI policy brief. Through these meetings, 217 champions and 96 upstream policy initiatives were identified as well as a series of recommendations across four priority areas: a ‘whole of government approach’, a ‘whole of society’ approach, a ‘whole of community’ approach as well as a ‘sustainable and integrated funding model’. These meetings highlighted the importance of communities coming together to convene, network and learn from each other to promote transformative change.

There is momentum in Atlantic Canada across the four priority areas. For instance, actions have been taken by the PEI Alliance for Mental Well Being to bring together non-profit organizations to better understand their needs and identify action steps. Findings from the Health Accord for Newfoundland and Labrador call for a ten-year health transformation with a focus on social determinants of health and a higher quality health system. The Canadian Network for Health in All Policies was introduced as an intersectoral network focused on knowledge mobilization across policy sectors. Speakers emphasized intersectoral collaboration, a focus on upstream approaches and the social determinants of health.

This event had a strong youth presence through a youth leadership program and presentations. A key message was the value and importance of having youth at the table throughout and at all levels of decision making. We were reminded that programs can be best tailored for youth by youth.

Thank you to the ASI organizers for instilling hope and inspiring the KDE Hub team and conference participants with examples of successful mental health promotion initiatives both at a grassroots and policy level.