Our provincial government Monday morning announced nearly three million dollars in funding to improve mental health services for youth.

Education Minister and Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen says $621,000 will go towards Project 11, which was created in memory of former Manitoba Moose, Rick Rypien, who died of suicide in 2011. Project 11 provides virtual and in-person lessons and activities designed to improve mental health awareness and positive coping strategies for students in Kindergarten to grade eight.

"Investing in the mental health of Manitobans, including youth and children, is a primary commitment of our government," says Goertzen. "Programs like Project 11 will help make a difference in the lives of young people by giving them their skills they need to maintain and improve their mental health."

Goertzen says according to Rypien's father, if there had been something like Project 11 when his son was going through the school system, it may have made a difference in Rick's life.

"We believe that there will be young people whose lives will be changed, whose lives will be saved as a result of the support," says Goertzen. "It will be a true legacy to Rick Rypien and to Project 11."

Also today, Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced $1.5 million over the next three years to expand the distribution of Thrival Kits to grades four to six students across the province. This money will put kits in the hands of up to 15,600 young people.

Stefanson explains Thrival Kits are tools used in classrooms to help connect youth with evidence based mental health practices through activities. She says children are taught how to recognize and reduce stress and how to develop healthy coping skills. The kits were first introduced as a pilot project in 2017.

"One of our greatest opportunities to deal with the challenges of mental health and wellness is to give youth tools and information they need at a young age," explains Stefanson. "This helps young people build resilience, growing up with a better understanding of their own mental health and how they can cope with challenges and perhaps most importantly know that they are not alone in this whole initiative."

The province says these initiatives receiving funding meet various recommendations made in the VIRGO report, which is the most comprehensive assessment of mental health and addictions services in the province's history. Nearly 25 per cent of Manitobans aged 10 and older have a diagnosed mood or anxiety disorder, while 75 per cent of mental illness onsets occur before the age of 24.