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Game-changers: addressing mental health issues

Game-changers: addressing mental health issues

Meet some of the people transforming the way we think about mental health.

[Photo of Cindy Kwong by Bernard Clark]
Photo by Bernard Clark

Cindy Kwong, BFA'15, turned to painting as a way to cope with depression.

The artist

Who: Cindy Kwong, BFA’15

Cindy started her first year in politics and ­economics. Her parents, Korean immigrants, even had hopes she might attend law school down the road. But she says their plan never felt quite right. Struggling with anxiety and depression, she turned to her first love, painting, eventually switching her major to Fine Arts. “I have always found art such a therapeutic way for me to express myself,” she says. In her work, she explores themes of identity, mental illness and ­“otherness.”

What drives her: She paints not only ­because of the way it makes her feel, but because of how it allows her to connect with others. “What drives me to make art is the chance to share a perspective of the world that others might not have seen or might not understand.”

What she wants you to know about ­mental health: When she was at her lowest, Cindy had trouble getting up in the morning and would sometimes go long ­periods without leaving her residence room. It was painting that motivated her to get going again. She also credits her colleagues and professors in the BFA ­program for providing encouragement and support. “That really helped me want to be in the ­studio,” she says. As for her ­parents, Cindy says they are accepting of the artistic path she has chosen for herself. “My mother ­recently said, ’I’ve never seen you so happy and healthy.’”

What’s next? Once she graduates this spring, Cindy plans to spend a year teaching English in Korea (she is fluently bilingual) in a bid to connect with her ancestral roots. She then hopes to pursue graduate training in art therapy so that she can help others ­express themselves through the arts.

You can see more of Cindy Kwong’s work (and that of her classmates) online at ­begin-anywhere.ca, a website featuring the art of the Queen’s BFA class of 2015.

Dr. Heather Stuart, Professor, Public Health Sciences

The researcher

Who: Dr. Heather Stuart

Occupation: Epidemiologist. Professor in the Queen’s Department of Public Health Sciences, with cross appointments to the Department of Psychiatry and the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair and senior consultant to the Opening Minds anti-stigma initiative of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Passionate about: Providing concrete ways to help people eradicate the stigma around mental health issues. Creating applied research that will help policy makers to make evidence-informed decisions.

Recent projects: The Caring Campus project. Developing guidelines for the 2015 Bell Let’s Talk Day campaign to help Canadians communicate about mental illness.

What’s next for her: Finding new ways of translating the knowledge gained from working with Caring Campus and the Mental Health Commission of Canada to practitioners in the field.

What she wants you to know about mental illness:

  1. Language matters. Pay attention to the words you use about mental illness.
  2. Educate yourself. Learn more, know more. Help fight stigma with facts.
  3. Be kind. Small acts of kindness speak volumes.
  4. Listen and ask. Sometimes it’s best just to listen.
  5. Talk about it. Start a dialogue, not a debate. Break the silence.
[Holly Mathias and Qian Shi]
Holly Mathias and Qian Shi. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

The student leaders

Who: Holly Mathias, Artsci’16, and Qian Shi, Artsci’17, 2014-15 co-chairs of the Mental Health Awareness Committee (MHAC).

An AMS committee since 1996, MHAC works to raise students’ awareness of and sensitivity to mental health issues.

This year’s projects: With their 15 volunteers, Holly and Qian have provided a full year of programming, including talks with students in residence, a speaker ­series (topics included masculinity, body image, and relationships), and mental health training for other campus student groups.

New this year: A video, “Mental Health Doesn’t Care - Queen’s University," that has gone viral on Youtube. Volunteers Kevin Bailie and Jordan Coccimiglio, both Artsci’17 and both Gaels hockey players, recruited fellow varsity ­athletes, as well as Principal Woolf, to talk about how mental health issues ­affect everyone. Watch the video.

What’s next for them: This summer, Qian will be conducting research at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto and Holly will begin work for Volunteer ­Services at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston. Starting this September, they’ll both be working with the AMS’s Peer Support Centre.

What they are most proud of:

Qian: “It was an absolute pleasure to spearhead MHAC this year. The ­dedication, compassion and creativity I witnessed was ­incredible. I know for certain that MHAC played a huge role in creating a comfortable and supportive campus for Queen’s students. Being MHAC ­co-chair has inspired me to strive to take care of those around me.”

Holly: “Not only have I been fortunate enough to see the impact of our work on campus, I’ve also been able to see the growth of our volunteer team. ­Seeing them achieve their goals as well as accomplishing things they’ve never imagined, all while forming strong bonds with each other, makes me proud to be co-chair. I know that their passion for mental health advocacy and cam­araderie will be something that lasts well through their time at Queen’s and into their careers.”

Follow @QueensuMHAC

[photo of Mike Condra]
Dr. Mike Condra. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

The psychologist

Who: Dr. Mike Condra, MA’78, PhD’82 ­(Psychology)

Occupation: Director of Queen’s Health, Counselling & Disabilities Services. As of June 2015, he will retire from HCDS, where he has worked since 1992.

Passionate about: Mental health education. “If I could, I would teach people about mental health forever.”

His work: In addition to overseeing the ­operations of the three departments of HCDS, providing personal counselling for students and teaching in the ­Department of ­Psychology, Mike has recently led a ­number of Queen’s ­mental health ­initiatives. These ­include the M2 peer mentoring ­program, a Queen’s mental health awareness, anti-stigma and response training course and the Academic ­Accommodations ­project.

What he needs you to know about ­mental health: “Many people worry that they aren’t qualified to support someone else ­going through a mental health crisis. That’s understandable. There are times when a trained mental health professional needs to intervene. But just letting someone know that they are not alone is a huge thing.The most powerful tool in helping ­someone going through crisis can be ­simple, face-to-face, ­human contact.”

[jack.org group photo]
Eric Windeler (front, centre) and some of the delegates at this February’s Jack Summit in Toronto. Two hundred high school, college and university students gathered for the summit to take action on mental health initiatives. Hundreds more took part in separate satellite summits across the country. (Photo courtesy jack.org)

The five in five

Who: Eric Windeler, Com’82, founder and executive director of Jack.org

Looking back: After the unexpected suicide of his son, Jack, Eric went in search of answers. “I went back to Queen’s and talked to Daniel [Woolf] and many students on Jack’s floor in residence, those who knew Jack and those who didn’t. I talked to Mike Condra. Then I went to Jack’s high school. I kept on talking to everyone: mental health professionals, parents and young people. I didn’t have any intention at that point that this would become my vocation, but I literally never went back to my office except to pick up my things.”

Looking forward: With his colleagues at Jack.org and volunteers across Canada, Eric is helping to build a national network of young people who can break down stigma about mental illness. Eric takes a back seat, understanding that initiatives created by young people are most likely to resonate with their peers. He uses his business background to set goals, measure impact and conduct program evaluations for the organization.

The 5 in 5 model: First articulated by one of the students working for the organization, Jack.org is now driven by this model. While one in five of us will experience mental illness, five out of five of us have mental health. Traditional approaches to tackling the issue of mental health in Canada often don’t reach outside the self-selecting (1 in 5) demographic of people interested in or ­affected by mental illness. Jack.org strives to ­empower all young people across Canada to take care of themselves, support their peers and join as a network of young leaders to effect change in the mental health landscape.

The 3 pillars of Jack.org

  1. Jack Talks. Starting the conversation. Through speaking events organized by community groups and schools, youth speakers share their personal experience with mental health.
  2. Jack Chapters. Change at the community level. One of the first chapters was started at Queen’s. This year, there are 30 chapters across Canada. Each student-run chapter creates programs and initiatives to suit their campus or community, while drawing on the experience of other ­chapters. [See the Queen’s chapter’s “Sleeve the stigma behind” campaign in this issue's Round-up of mental health initiatives on campus.]
  3. Jack Summit. Creating a national network. ­Entirely student-run, Jack Summit brings together hundreds of student leaders from across Canada. They leave armed with strategies and the network of peers they need to create real and lasting social change. “That leadership piece is critical,” says Eric. “They’re facilitating discussions; they’re giving ­presentations. They are building their skills as ­leaders, and then taking those skills back to their campus and community.” Unlike traditional conferences, ”where you leave with a bagful of pamphlets you’ll never read again,” Jack Summit is set up to capture real-time conversations and ­decisions among the ­delegates. After each ­summit, the Jack.org team synthesizes the ­findings and distributes them to all the delegates for them to use and to build on year over year.

On June 9, Eric Windeler received an honorary degree from Queen’s. Read his speech to graduands.

Follow @Jackdotorg

[photo of Queen's staff, faculty and students with a sign "Focus on mental health"]