Written by: Aslam (he/they) & Lee (she/they) – Provincial Youth Advisors, writers with Foundry BC
Jumping in the lake and getting slushies is all anyone can think about on the last days of June 2019. For Aslam* (he/they), they had just graduated from high school, and like many others, they dreamed of leaving their small town for the big city.
“Planning to move to Vancouver gave me so much hope,” says Aslam. “I was finally free to be openly queer, meet new friends and be immersed in a multicultural community.”
Within six months, COVID-19 cases began to rise, and self-isolation became the norm. Suddenly alone, Aslam’s mental health began to decline, and they started to indulge in substances.
“Moving came with so many pros that I forgot it also came with the cons,” stresses Aslam. “I thought everything was normal – drinking every night with my new friends and being hungover during class, wasting what little money I had left on the next disposable vape.”
The isolation from early spring until the following summer made accessing resources almost impossible, impacting youth all over the province.
“At first, I wasn’t even aware that I was at my worst,” says Aslam, “I was so used to my routine: wake up, still feeling helpless and empty, pack a bowl and take a couple of tokes out of my bedroom window, then go back to sleep. It was intense denial and numbing.”
During the summer of 2021, Aslam gained the courage to reach out and receive support for their substance use and mental health. They went to Foundry, an integrated youth service that provides mental health care, substance use services, physical and sexual health care, youth and family peer supports and social services for young people ages 12-24 and their families/caregivers across BC.
“I spoke to someone through Foundry in the past, when I was going through a lot of transitions mentally and spiritually,” says Aslam. “They really helped guide me through my struggles at the time.”
Caption: Staff at Foundry Vancouver-Granville, operated by Providence Health Care. One of many Foundry centre across BC that provide integrated health services to young people like Aslam and Lee. Photo by Jeff Topham.
Working with peer supporters with similar lived experience, Aslam was able to openly speak about their struggles with homophobia, past trauma and how it led to their battle with substance use. Aslam eventually connected with a physician through Foundry Vancouver-Granville and was able to learn more about their mental health, including their hereditary anxiety and signs of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Similarly, Lee* (she/they), a Foundry provincial youth advisor alongside Aslam, also experienced worsening mental health during the pandemic.
“To those of you who feel isolated or lonely – know that you are not alone,” Lee shares. “I was especially lucky that I was able to reach out to a counselor and doctor who have supported me through my path to recovery. I felt stuck for a long time and with help, I realized the way I had been living was not the path I had to follow.”
Throughout high school, some of Lee’s close friends and peers used substances to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. As someone with lived experiences, Lee continues to encourage others to reach out to support services, no matter how difficult it may be to take the first step.
“Sometimes, we don’t realize when we need to get help,” says Lee, “until we know other people who have gone through similar experiences.”
As Foundry provincial youth advisors, both Aslam and Lee share their perspectives to make Foundry services youth-friendly and inclusive to others.
“Being a part of my community has always been a critical part of my healing journey,” shares Aslam, “connecting with other youth and the opportunity to shape my own wellness journey, has made me feel stronger and less isolated in my struggles.”
With the ever-changing lingo for substances and new trends on the internet, Foundry’s staff are well equipped; and some have their own lived experience as well. Encouraging youth to be open and honest about substance usage, and using harm reduction strategies, allows youth to feel less stigmatized.
“When I went to Foundry, I was accepted,” says Aslam. “I didn’t need to explain why I made the choices I did because they already knew why, and they didn’t care. They just wanted me to feel supported and loved.”
It is important to be able to meet youth where they are at in their journeys. Young people can walk into a local Foundry centre, explore online tools and resources at foundrybc.ca, or connect virtually through the Foundry BC app.
“Our generation is strong, willing to grow and change for the better,” says Aslam. “With the services that Foundry is offering, no problem is too big or small. Foundry services are available, and they can help you.”
To learn more, visit foundrybc.ca/youmatter.
Are you a parent/caregiver looking for support for yourself and a young person in your life? Visit foundrybc.ca/youthcare for more information.
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