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The VALIDITY♀ Project launches the new Girls Talk Program Guide in Fall 2009


I Introduction – What is the VALIDITY♀ Project?
II Girls Talk: A Program that Aims to Prevent Depression in Young Women from CAMH
III Project Resources for Providers
IV Lessons Learned

--submitted by Cathy Thompson, Project Lead, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

I Introduction– What is the VALIDITY♀ Project?

The VALIDITY♀ project – Vibrant Action Looking Into Depression In Today’s Young Women – was conceived in 1999 through a partnership of research, community programs and product development at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to explore the psychosocial risk factors associated with depression in young women. It used a participatory action research (PAR) model to conduct the initial research and make recommendations in order to develop new useful prevention and treatment interventions. Participatory action research has emerged in recent years as a significant methodology for intervention, development and change within communities and groups. It is a recognized form of experimental research that focuses on the effects of the researcher's direct actions of practice within a participatory community with the goal of improving the performance quality of the community or an area of concern.

This project was able to tap into the valuable insights of adolescent girls regarding depression through a series of provincial focus groups. Many of the themes that emerged from these focus groups are supported by current literature and research. Many of the topics, however, have not yet received sufficient empirical attention. So CAMH continues to support the VALIDITY♀ project and initiatives to address these factors. Some of the suggestions made by the young women, including educating other young women, service providers and the general public about recognizing and responding sensitively to depression, continue to contribute to our awareness initiatives and campaigns.

The VALIDITY♀ project has elicited valuable information that is used by the professional community to enhance services for young women experiencing depression. It is also an important journey in its own right. At all stages of the project, young women have shared stories, tears, energy, and dreams with the VALIDITY♀ project team. This is a project that has touched many people’s lives and continues to generate interest and energy. The VALIDITY♀ project has grown beyond a research project to become a vibrant, sensitive community of women dedicated to helping young women and preventing depression.

II Girls Talk: A Program that Aims to Prevent Depression in Young Women from CAMH

The Girls Talk Community Program Guide will be launched in the Fall of 2009.

This comprehensive resource will be made available to anyone working with young women free of charge by downloading it from the VALIDITY♀ project’s website at

The Girls Talk program has evolved as a result of the larger VALIDITY♀ project, which aimed at gaining a better understanding of factors that lead to depression in young women, with the goal of ultimately developing strategies, materials, and interventions to address these factors.

Girls Talk is an 8-session, anti-stigma program for girls generally between the ages of 13 and 16 focusing on preventing and educating young women about depression. This program is not intended for young women who have already been diagnosed with, or are in treatment for depression.

Throughout the process of developing and implementing the activities in this project, young women were actively involved in positions of leadership, including leading focus groups in various provincial communities to gather information from peers and service providers about depression and young women, and planning a provincial conference in 2001 (held in Windsor, Ontario focused on young women and depression).

The overwhelming theme that emerged throughout this process was the need for a safe place where the girls could go and be themselves, without having to deal with the unrelenting pressures of adolescence and daily life. They stressed the need to have a supportive environment to share their feelings with other girls without fear of negative comments or ridicule. They recognized that the stigma of mental illness is a huge barrier for getting help. They also described a need for strengthening self-esteem, understanding ways to develop meaningful relationships, understanding the influence of the media on young women, and educating parents, teachers and service providers about depression and how they can help. Based on the findings from the focus groups, the conference, and recommendations from the VALIDITY♀ Youth Action Team, the “Girls Talk” program was created by CAMH.

Program Objectives

After completing the Girls Talk program, it is expected that the participants will demonstrate their understanding of depression including potential causes, symptoms and treatment options. The young women will gain an understanding of the interrelation between depression and self-esteem, body image, stress, relationships and the media. The young women will also build on their skills to cope with daily life events.

Program Description

The activities that comprise the Girls Talk program are experiential, actively involving the young women in physical, artistic and intellectual ways. A substantial discussion component is included to provide the girls an opportunity to connect on a personal level and to discuss issues that are important to them.

The program consists of eight sessions of approximately 90 – 120 minutes, each held on a weekly basis. They are facilitated by two professionals with a background working with young women. Facilitators can be social workers, public health nurses, counsellors, and members of local community agencies or school personnel. One of the key requirements of the facilitators is that they be considered youth-friendly.

Program Components

Each Girls Talk session includes the following components:

  • education about a pre-determined topic related to depression
  • a group discussion
  • an activity (artistic or physical)
  • journal writing.

The topics that are covered during the Girls Talk sessions were determined through the VALIDITY♀ project (from the voices of young women) and through research about factors influencing young women and depression. The main topics that are discussed include depression, stigma, stress, relationships, self-esteem, media and body image.

In keeping with the model of youth involvement, CAMH continues to partner with Youth Net/Réseau Ado in Ottawa, and the Youth Net Program in Halton in a variety of aspects of Girls Talk. Both organizations piloted the program in 2004 and it continues to be implemented as part of their core programming. To date more than 700 young women in Ontario have participated in the Girls Talk program.

III Project Resources for Providers

There are a variety of resources that support the program including the guide Hear Me, Understand Me, Support Me: What Young Women Want You to Know about Depression. The guide explores the diverse challenges that young women experience in relation to depression; prevention strategies; healthy helping relationships; the dos and don’ts of working with young women; and referrals and resources that can provide more information. Thousands of professionals in the education and medical fields have used this as a resource when working with young women.

A poster for service providers was developed in collaboration with young women, including a version for Aboriginal women. The Let's Talk poster can be put up in any area where young women visit. Service providers (including medical and school personnel) have used this poster in a variety of settings to engage girls in conversations about issues they are dealing with. Professionals who use the poster have told us that it acts as an excellent conversation starter with young women. Often young women come for help for difficult issues and by using this poster it helps them to open up and start talking. Talking is what young women want to do and it’s up to service providers to really listen. Smaller versions of the poster (postcards) are available to give to young women as a tool to help them reflect.

In March 2009, the VALIDITY♀ project team hired an external consultant to conduct focus groups about the poster in hopes of creating an aboriginal version. The purpose of the focus groups were to determine if the poster was a potential tool that could be used with aboriginal young women and secondly, what changes need to be made to the poster to create an aboriginal version. The participants were 31 young women ages 13 to 23 from three aboriginal communities across Ontario. The young women identified as being Cree, Anishanaabe, Status Indian, Metis, Ojibway, Navajo, and Ojicree. The focus groups took place in March 2009 in three distinct communities and were held in one family services centre, one alternative school and one local high school. They were arranged by local CAMH consultants and facilitated by an external consultant. The young women emphasized the importance of connectedness to elders, culture, roots and spirituality as ways to reach them. They expressed value in the poster as a tool to encourage discussion with service providers in their community however major changes need to be made to reflect the realities of their world. It is expected that CAMH will partner with young aboriginal women to draft a new version of the Let’s Talk Poster and will conduct further focus groups with young women for feedback.

For more information, including how to order these support materials, refer to the resources section.

IV Lessons Learned

Young women have a lot of wisdom and lived experience to share and they are best at identifying the resources and programs work for them. We have consulted young women throughout this journey and although the process often takes more time and resources, in the end we have authentic resources that are applicable to young women from ages 13 to 24.