SONAR, apping the stigma

Students at Fort St. James Secondary School (FSJSS) have invented an innovative way to address stigma on mental health.

Students at Fort St. James Secondary School (FSJSS) have invented an innovative way to address stigma on mental health.

The Social Networking App for Resilience, or SONAR, is an interactive website and app meant to engage young people to learn more about depression, anxiety, substance abuse or any other mental health problems. The idea came into fruition last year after an UNBC practicum student visited FSJSS and organized a group to study mental health. Thus the SONAR team was born.

“We want to change the views Fort St. James youth have on mental health,” Raylene Erickson, 17, said, lead SONAR member.

In Canada approximately one in four youth experience mental health. In Fort St. James, more than half the youth who completed a recent SONAR survey met the criteria of having significant mental health problems. Over the past year, ten youth collaborators from the community worked closely to determine the main issues affecting Fort St. James youth. They concluded the three top reasons are substance abuse, racism and bullying. They also found a lack of opportunity for peers and adults to connect in meaningful ways.

“The SONAR website is intended to facilitate youth engagement and participation in the community. With SONAR people can log on and find out what’s happening in the community, positive places to hang out and it even has a calendar of upcoming events,” Jhenipher Bridgeman said, SONAR teacher liaison and at-risk youth worker at FSJSS.

This past January, Erickson and Bridgeman attended the Balancing Our Minds Youth Summit in Vancouver after SONAR was nominated for the Every Day Champion of Wellness Award. Although the group did not win, the two ladies brought back with them many ways to engage the community further.

“At the summit we learned about laughter, yoga, mindfulness, Mind Check and, heard so many stories of how other youth have taken away the stigma in their communities,” Erickson said.

The SONAR group hopes to use MindCheck, an educational website on mental health, to get more people involved. The website hosts a curriculum that SONAR will use in classrooms, called Stop Wondering Start Knowing. It hosts three sessions – What is Mental Health, Talk and Take Action and Recognizing Mental Health Challenges and Achieve Mental Awareness.

“Our goal is to essentially start with adults teaching the class but then eventually have students teach. It will be much more affective coming from peers,” Kaylee Walstrom, 16, SONAR member, said.

With help from grant writer Shauna Hesse, SONAR is hopeful to receive funding and together with the Theatre Northwest Music Makers and Nechako Valley Arts Council, put on a play with a mental health focus. It will be a theatre production for the community to see and will possibly travel to other schools, Bridgeman said.

“Moving forward we will also be doing an assembly to let everyone know about these resources and will be creating a mental health board in the school,” she said.

Anyone interested in being part of SONAR, the group meets every Tuesday at lunch in the First Nations room at FSJSS. For more information visit