Conversational Bandaids

By: Olivia Quenneville

Y’know, I wish I could see your face right now.  Not because I’m a creep, but because I want to have a conversation with you.  I want to have a real, human, face-to-face conversation.  But unfortunately, due to the nature of this podcast, that can’t really happen, because of the separation of the internet, and also because of the device you’re using to listen to this episode on, which is a physical barrier that is separating me from you. 

This situation is the exact thing that is happening with the conversation on mental health, because there are these barriers that are preventing it from happening.  I can’t really describe these barriers because I don’t really know what they are.  But they are so huge that they are almost stopping the conversation from happening completely.  And this bothers me a little bit.  And it bothers a lot of people, including an organization called Jack.org, who I spoke to not too long ago to find out what they’re doing to get this conversation in motion, and what they’re doing to get people to talk about mental health in general, because talking about mental health is so important.

 My name is Olivia Quenneville and you’re listening to “Conversational Bandaids”, an episode about mental health among youth in Toronto, the conversation about it that should be happening, and what Jack.org is doing about it.  This episode will explore what mental illnesses are all about, what the experts have to say about it, how it’s being treated in Toronto, and how Jack.org is playing a role in solving the issue of mental illness.

Mental health is something I’ve been concerned with and interested in for quite a while, and over time I’ve accumulated a whole bunch of questions that have remained unanswered for so long.  I didn’t know who to talk to about it and I didn’t know which resources I could rely on to get those questions answered, until I found out about one event that was taking place at York University back in October.  York University launched their new mental health strategy back in October, so I took my questions with me to this event.  I was able to get most of my questions answered by representatives at York, but I found that there was a particular group that actually helped me to have a more clear vision on this issue.  They’re called Jack.org.  It turns out that Jack.org has a chapter right here at York University, as well as at other universities across Canada.  I was able to speak to a representative from Jack.org at York.  Her name is Raman, and she had a lot of great information to share with me.

I’ll start off by telling you a little bit about Jack.org.  I think they’re a really interesting and really unique organization.  Jack.org started all because of a very tragic event.  Jack Windeler was a first year student at Queen’s university in 2010.  Everything was going well, he was happy to be starting his first year and to be beginning his life as an adult, but there was one small thing that had been brewing inside him: he was struggling with a mental illness.  All of the sudden his grades started dropping, and he spent a significant time alone, talking to no one.

Raman: “Jack.org was started because his son committed suicide, he was a Queen’s student.”

In response to their son’s death, Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington asked their friends and family to donate to the Kids Help Phone in memory of Jack.  This small action of condolence started something bigger called “The Jack Project”, which was an organization under Kids Help Phone designed specifically for young people.  The purpose of this project was to provide a service for young people to get in contact with others who could help them with their mental health issues.  In 2013, it was decided that there was more to be done.  “The Jack Project” became an independent charity in October 2013, and with a sharpened focus, an expanded scope, new staff, managers, and fundraisers, “The Jack Project” became “Jack.org” in 2014 (Jack.org).

Raman: “Jack.org at York University started, I believe, in February of 2015.”

Jack.org is “Canada’s only national network of young leaders transforming the way we think about mental health”.

Along with all the questions I’ve had about mental health, I’ve mostly been wondering about these two terms: mental health and mental illness.  So I asked Raman to describe these terms for me.

Raman: “Mental health, I think, is just overall well-being of an individual.  Everyone has it.  It can be the emotional, psychological, or social well-being.  Mental health can affect the way we think, feel, and act.  Mental health illnesses or disorders are basically issues or problems related to mental health.  They can range from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety.”

According to the CMHA, the Canadian Mental Health Association, “mental illnesses are caused by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality, and environmental factors”.  Mental illness affects people of all ages, cultures, educations levels, and income levels.  About 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder.  Canada’s suicide rate is the third highest in the world and with mental illness growing increasingly worse, that rank could move up to the second or first place.  According to Statistics Canada suicide or intentional self-harm was ranked as the 9th leading cause of death in Canada, with 3926 fatalities as a result.  Of all the children that experience mental illness in Canada, only 1/5 children receive the help and services they need.  So we definitely know that this is a problem, in Canada specifically, but what are people doing to solve this problem, what does our government think, and most of all, what can we do to help?

Let’s zoom in on this issue, and let’s focus on the parts of it that are closer to home, specifically the parts of it that are closer to Toronto.  Well, to be honest, the issue of mental health in Toronto is kind of being put on the back-burner; it isn’t really being dealt with.  There are up to 795,000 children and youth in Ontario who have at least one mental health issue, according to Michael Kirby from the Toronto Star.  He explains that only one in four of these children will actually receive the help they need for their mental health issues.  According to Dave Gallson, mental illness constitutes more than 15% of disease in Canada, but the total health care funding allocated to that is only 7%.  This just doesn’t add up.  Some kids are put on a waiting list to receive some kind of psychiatric help, and they could be waiting for these services for up to four years.  But during the time that they are waiting, their mental health illness is actually getting worse, and suicide rates are increasing as a result.  I read an article called “Mental Illness Is Like Any Other Medical Illness”, but, it’s not.  The article explains that mental illnesses cannot be treated like other medical illnesses because they’re indeed different, and therefore they have to be treated differently.  This psychiatric help may not even be the kind of service that people with mental illnesses actually need.  So the government needs to spend more of their funding on specialized services that can actually help people with mental illness.  Our youth in Toronto needs better access to services and these services need better funding from the government.  When I hear this information I’m wondering what I can do to help on my own level as an individual, and I’m wondering what I can do in my own community to get this started.  According to Jack.org, the easiest thing we can do it start the conversation.  And starting the conversation is what Jack.org is all about.

Raman: “I feel, personally, that talking about mental health is extremely important because it allows individuals to seek help without feeling bad if they need it.  A lot of people suffer from mental health issues so they shouldn’t feel any less or any different from anyone else in society.”  While Raman and I were discussing the conversation on mental health, I was actually surprised to find out that this conversation is happening, and it’s happening right here at York University among the students on campus.

Raman: “I definitely see a change.  I feel like mental health is being talked about more.  Before it used to be a really heavily stigmatized topic, which it still is, however I feel like people are becoming more open to discussing it, especially at school.”

Now, I’m not asking anyone to go out and join Jack.org right away, but I am asking you to start the conversation, whether it’s with your friends, or with someone who you know actually has a mental health issue.  Starting the conversation about mental health is so important because it can literally save lives.  If someone would have talked to Jack before he took his life, he could have still been here today.  The first step to solving any problem is talking about it.  Talking about mental health or even talking to someone who has a mental health issue is a conversational bandaid.  It doesn’t completely solve the problem, but it does provide a pretty good temporary solution.  These conversational bandaids are what will help us to start solving the problem of mental health in Toronto.  If we can spread these conversational bandaids to enough people who experience mental illness, we’ll be able to buy some time until we can find a permanent solution to this problem.

As I mentioned earlier, this problem isn’t even being dealt with right now.  So how can we be sure that it’s going to be dealt with in the future unless we deal with it ourselves?  If we start the conversation and make noise about mental health, I’m sure we’ll be heard by someone if we’re loud enough.  But as I mentioned before, these conversational bandaids are only temporary, so we need to act now and act fast.  As soon as you can, start talking about mental health with anyone, because you’ll be a big part of the movement. 

It’s not just important for myself to be involved with this issue, it’s important for all of us to be involved, all of us from different cultures and every walk of life to make this movement possible. 

Raman: “It’s important to have people from all different backgrounds too, because in certain cultures mental health is also highly stigmatized more than other cultures.  So I think if we get more diverse backgrounds and people working together I think it will be better for the community’s well-being.”

Even more specific than that, it’s really important for our youth in Toronto to be getting involved with this cause.  This is why Jack.org is run by youth for youth, because no one really understands what our youth is going through other than the youths themselves.

Raman: “I think youth-for-youth is really helpful because it’s our generation working together to tackle issues in our generation.  We are drawing attention to issues that are extremely prominent.  A lot of kids suffer from anxiety and depression.  But it is definitely raising awareness about issues that are very prominent in our time right now.

In a few years, we are going to be the ones who will be making decisions about the issue of mental health.  So why not start the movement now and carry it on for the rest of our lives, because we are the ones who are starting the change.

After learning about mental health and how important starting the conversation is, I really wanted to get involved with the cause.  So I asked Raman how I could get involved with Jack.org and Jack.org at York. 

Raman: “I think the organization is a really good way to get involved if you are interested in mental health and reducing stigma.  So if they want to get involved with the bigger organization I would suggest first starting off with either the Facebook page, or just checking out the website; there is a lot of information on the website.  If they want to get involved with Jack.org at York, they can check out our Facebook page, they can shoot us an email if just want to join as a general member and help out or volunteer, whatever they’d like.  Or they can come sign up, we usually have a sign-up sheet when we do table, and they can definitely join then. 

I hope I kind of cleared up the stigma about mental health a little bit more than it already has been, thanks to Jack.org and their amazing efforts to get this movement off the ground.  And I hope, myself included, that we can all start the conversation about mental health if it isn’t happening already.  If you notice that mental health is still being stigmatized in your community, why not talk about it with someone?  You can even start with your family or friends.  If you know someone who is struggling with a mental health illness, don’t be afraid to approach them.  Just talk to them, ask them how their day was, and ask them how they’re doing.  One of the best things we can do, other than starting the conversation, is getting involved with organizations just like Jack.org who will help us get this movement started.  It’s going to take us, the youth of Toronto, to make a change in our city for the better.  Because there are a lot of people out there, people struggling with mental health, who don’t have a voice.  So we need to be advocates for them, we need to make their voice heard, and we need to get loud about mental health in order to make a change happen.  Mental health and mental illness, and Jack.org, is my passion project.  I hope I’ve inspired some of you to take interest in mental health and mental illness because it is an issue that is so completely ignored sometimes, and I think we need to bring it into the light.  Although, I’m glad that York University is starting to become more aware about mental illness, and is starting to get the conversation happening on campus.  Mental illness is a growing concern among youth in Toronto, in Canada, and all around the world.  This is why we need to get involved, not only with Jack.org, but within our own communities, as I’ve said throughout this entire episode. 

Jack.org literally takes their voice and their conversation about mental health all across the country, as they hold Jack Talks and conferences in different parts of Canada at various universities and event centres.  I believe that if more of us get involved in Jack.org, as I hope to do myself, that more of us will be able to spread the word about mental health, and more of us will be able to reduce more of the stigma surrounding this issue.  I was lucky enough to hear two Jack speakers at York’s launch of their new mental health strategy, and I have to say, it really changed my life and inspired me, not only to do this podcast, but to become more aware of mental health and to become more involved in the movement that is changing the way we think about it. 

So here’s my call to action.  I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, heck, I’ve said it many times throughout this entire episode.  But I am urging you and everyone to get involved with the conversation on mental health, because it’s the one easiest thing we can do to make a change in Toronto, in Canada, and eventually, across the world. 

 

Bibliography

“Facts About Mental Illness”. Canadian Mental Health Association. www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#.WBYQNPkrLIV. Accessed 18 October, 2016.

“jack.org/about”. Jack.org.  www.jack.org/about. Accessed 18 October, 2016.

Kirby, Michael. "Our Youth Deserve More Mental Health Support." Toronto Star, Oct 07 2013. ProQuest. Web. Accessed 30 October, 2016.

Lough, Shannon. “Mental Health Needs Targeted Federal Funds.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 187.16 (2015), doi:10.1503/cmaj.109-5153. Accessed 21 October, 2016.

Malla, Ashok, et al. “Mental Illness is Like any Other Medical Illness”: A critical examination of the statement and its impact on patient care and society. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience 40.3 (January 2015): 147-150. Doi:10.1503/jpn.150099. Accessed 21 October, 2016.

Statistics Canada. Table102-0561 -  Leading causes of death, total population, by age group and sex, Canada, annual, CANSIM.  www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a26?lang=eng&id=1020561#F21. Accessed 1 November, 2016.

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Raman from Jack.org at York for participating in this podcast and sharing great information about Jack.org.  I would also like to recognize Dunja Baus for her incredible help and guidance during the process of this project.