The Jack Summit in Toronto has motivated seven St. Thomas University students to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Nate Peardon, Brittany Polchies, Olivia Nelson, Tyson Hovey, Marc-André Desjardins, Adam Horan and Scott Hems were among 200 delegates from across Canada who attended this year’s summit from Feb. 27 to 28.
“You come back and you have that fire in your belly to do something about the mental health stigma,” said Peardon, a fourth-year economics student.
The student-led summit, which was held at the MaRS Discovery District in downtown Toronto, brings together student leaders from every province and territory each year to help change the perceptions and discussions around mental health.
The summit is overseen by Jack.org, which, according to its website, is Canada’s only network of young leaders who are working to change the way people think about mental health.
Jack.org is named after Jack Windeler, a first-year student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. who battled mental illness and took his own life in 2010. His family collected donations for Kids Help Phone in his memory after his death, and the outpouring of support that followed helped start the organization, according to its website.
Peardon said the focus of this year’s Jack Summit was to find ways to address issues at individual, community and national levels. He said groups were asked to brainstorm solutions for overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness at each level and discuss them.
“To be part of that student group, it was an honour,” he said. “We’re all unique in our own way, so by bringing people who are just passionate, energetic and outgoing, you only have one side of the issue. With the diverse student nature, you come up with multiple ways to resolve an issue.”
Something else Peardon said he took from the summit was networking opportunities.
“You meet people from all across Canada, and you make friendships with them, even though you’re only there for a couple days,” he said. “I met people at last year’s summit who I consider friends to this day.”
As for STU’s mental health initiatives, Peardon said he was pleased with this year’s mental health week. He said a Jack.org student chapter at STU is in the works.
“STU, with its small size, has great potential to end mental health stigma, as well as create awareness.”
Polchies likes that signs tend to be posted around campus telling students where to find help if needed, and she said she has heard positive reviews about STU’s student counselling service.
“I’ve personally suffered from mental illness, and I’ve had people who were close to me deal with it,” she said. “If anything more can be done to help people like me or even my peers, that would be super.”
She encouraged anyone interested in attending the Jack Summit to apply.
“It’s kind of like a mini camp experience,” said Polchies. “You get to know all these people when you’re there for a really short time, but you’re all there for the same reason, and it’s interesting and worth it.”