Sturgeon Lake youth leader awarded for mental health work

Clifford Ballantyne was all smiles as the new Youth Centre opened in Sturgeon Lake.

Three years ago, Clifford Ballantyne could barely get out of bed. He had no motivation, and no self worth.

“I know how it felt,” the youth worker and mental health activist said.

“I felt like I was nothing. I couldn’t and didn’t want to get out of be. I didn’t want to talk about my mental health.”

In the three years since, Ballantyne has done more than just talk about his mental health. He has taken action, as one of the driving forces behind the ACCESS Open Minds Project and its local initiative in Sturgeon Lake. The national initiative ensures young people aged 11 to 25 have quick access to mental health support services in centres built by youth, for youth.

Now, he’s being recognized for his efforts. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health named Ballantyne one of the 150 leading Canadians for Mental Health.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Ballantyne said.

“When I found out, it was like, what, me? To reflect on where I was three years ago and where I am today, and I didn’t think it would be something I would have had the option to be a part of.”

Ballantyne used his lived experience to drive him to make life better for youth in his community battling through mental health issues.

So far, the new youth centre has been a success.

“We have a lot of youth coming into the space now, utilizing it, and we’re having regular meetings with our core youth members,” he said.

“Since school started, we’ve had a big turnout. It’s been great. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from the families of the youth.”

The success of the youth centre and the ability to empower youth also has gotten Ballantyne noticed in the mental health community. He’s accompanying the PAGC and another youth from James Smith First Nation to Toronto for a First Nations health conference, speaking about empowering youth to create healthier communities.

It’s Ballantyne’s hope that this award, and the speaking engagement, gets people talking about including youth when developing youth services.