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Dexter Nyuurnibe: Halifax’s mental health warrior for youth

Dexter Nyuurnibe was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and grew up in a single-parent household. His father, originally from Ghana, is the only parental figure he can recall. He remembers a childhood of travelling abroad, but also his first experiences with mental health issues.

“I can still remember being in grade two or three, where there were a couple instances where I was holding a knife to my chest, in the kitchen in our downtown apartment, and crying uncontrollably because of the things that had happened.”

During Nyuurnibe’s first year of university, he experienced symptoms of depression. “I would be in a situation where I would find it difficult to get out of bed, being too anxious, or being in a very low mood; not having enough energy to pull myself out of bed, or put on clothes, let alone walk out the door.”

However, Nyuurnibe was not diagnosed until his third year, after he attempted suicide.

He was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, but the lack of treatment he received while hospitalized and after he was released was what lead to his fight to help other youth struggling with mental health.

“It was just basically being held in one of the wards for about a week and a half or so. No medication was administered; it would be something that I would be put on later on. It was a weird situation because it wasn’t necessarily that the particular help I was getting at the time was focusing on the issues that lead up to it, it was more of just being held in the hospital.”

Even when Nyuurnibe returned to the hospital to try and talk to a doctor or receive help, he would be put on waiting lists, which were sometimes months long.

Now, Nyuurnibe is fighting to change the experiences that he had, so that other youth don’t have to undergo the same challenges with the mental health care system in Nova Scotia.

Nyuurnibe has advocated on Parliament Hill to Members of Parliament and received a proclamation from the Mayor of Halifax for Mental Health Week in Halifax.  He has given motivational speeches at schools across the province. Nyuurnibe is a leader for his peers.

Nyuurnibe has some changes he wants to see, in order to help Nova Scotian youth who are going through the same experiences as him.

“I’m fighting for more of a collaborative approach in regard to the services that might even be here, or might even be created in the future. I think that young people deserve a seat at the table with any decision-making that comes with mental healthcare, and moving forward with that.”

Nyuurnibe also wants to see all stakeholders present at these discussions, saying that communities need to be included. “We have to make sure there is more of a collaborative approach that focuses on this, because just having a small sample size doesn’t fit every specific demographic’s need. You have to try as hard as possible to bring youth into the conversation.”

Wait-time reduction and service improvement are also high on Nyuurnibe’s agenda, as those are two of the most common barriers that Nova Scotian youth face when dealing with mental health issues.

Methods such as peer support could use better support youth, Nyuurnibe  says these changes are necessary so “that if a person needs help, they get it and they don’t have to wait two to four weeks… One life lost is too many.”

Nyuurnibe believes that mental health awareness has never been higher, and that the general reception around the topic is positive, since people are encouraged to be open about their mental health concerns.

Nyuurnibe fights for better services for mental health because it affects millions of people across the country.

“One in five of us may struggle with a mental health issue. One in four Canadians may struggle with a mental health issue in their lifetime. But five out of five of us have mental health.”


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