Northern Lights, Improving Mental Health in Kangirsujuaq through Photography, is an initiative of SOI alumni Madeline Yaaka, Gabrielle Foss, Eva Wu and Patrick Hickey. Through photography and the teaching of photography, these alumni engaged youth in the community of Kangirsujuaq, Quebec in conversations about mental health, increased awareness around mental health and provided a positive activity and focus for youth who may be struggling with mental illness.
These four SOI alumni connected over their experience with Students on Ice, perspective from fellow Northern youth on their SOI expedition regarding mental health challenges in their communities, and a determination to make a difference. The result, a collaborative initiative called Northern Lights to address mental health awareness and challenges.
“We called it Northern Lights because mental illnesses, like depression, can often be referred to as darkness,” Foss said. “The northern lights are something so beautiful that light up the sky, so we wanted the mental health and photography workshops to light up any darkness that might be existing.”
At the heart of the project is a five-day photography workshop. The workshop took place in February 2016 with support from Kangirsujuaq’s mental health coordinator Marion James, producer and journalist Eric Foss and with generous funding from the Tarek & Sophie Inspiration Grant.
The workshop involved 15 students from Kangirsujuaq’s Arsaniq community school with the following objectives:
- Educate the youth about mental health
- Reduce the stigma attached to talking about mental health
- Teach basic photography skills
- Create a lasting positive impact in Kangirsujuaq
- Raise awareness in the south about mental health challenges facing Canada’s Arctic communities
A documentary was also created about the situation of mental health in the North, and how this project aims to promote wellness. It can be found here.
As a follow-up to the workshop, the second phase of the initiative will involve a photo exhibit; a regional (Nunavik) awareness campaign that highlights students’ photographs and a short documentary. The project team will also run a social media campaign presenting the outcomes of the project at several conferences and events and capture the interest of traditional media. This post workshop outreach initiative is made possible with generous funding from Polar Knowledge Canada’s 2016 POLAR Inspiration Grant.