The following is a guest blog written by Queen’s MD/Phd candidate Lori Minassian with contributions by QMed 2019 student Elisabeth Merner.
One in five young people suffer from mental illness. This is a statistic that I was completely unaware of until I met the amazing Windeler family. Seven years ago, they lost Jack, then a first-year student here at Queen’s, to suicide due to depression. Unfortunately, they were unaware that Jack was suffering. In fact, three out of four young people who suffer from mental illness don’t reach out for help. Jack’s parents, Eric and Sandra, recognized this and created Jack.org, Canada’s only national network of young leaders changing the way we think about mental health. The initiative started off small, as a partnership with Kid’s Help Phone to develop services for young people to reach out for help. Due to the success of this project, Jack.org transitioned to Queen’s University to have the opportunity to work directly with young leaders. In 2013, Jack.org incorporated as a registered Canadian charity. They now have chapters in 40 universities, eight colleges, and 70 high schools all across Canada.
Jack was my boyfriend’s brother. And though I never had the chance to meet him, his parents have kept his memory alive in the most powerful way. To say that Eric and Sandra inspire me everyday would be an understatement. Like many people, they suffered a great loss. But instead of letting it tear them down, they’ve created a powerful movement to prevent others from losing loved ones to mental illness. I’ve spent the last three years learning as much as I can about their cause and joining in on conversations surrounding mental health. They always stress that while one in five people suffer from mental illness, five in five have mental health. It is our job to make sure we are taking care of our mental health, just as we do with our physical health. What I find so amazing about Jack.org is its focus on empowering young leaders. They encourage students to be the drivers of conversation and change, not only with each other, but also with decision makers. Throughout all four years of my undergraduate degree, I was a peer mentor to younger students. I saw them go through all of the stress that comes with the transition from high school to university. Looking back, I wish I had the tools and support that Jack.org provides. These are the reasons I am inspired to participate in the Jack Ride.
This year, the Queen’s medical community has committed to helping young leaders eliminate the stigma around mental health by sending a team to the Jack Ride. The Jack Ride is Jack.org’s biggest annual fundraiser and all of the funds raised go directly to the charity’s youth mental health programs. With 16 members, including medical students, doctors, friends, and family, we are hoping to raise at least $6,000 for this amazing cause! Most students in the “QMed Cycles” Team have opted to challenge themselves by doing the Jack 100 (100 km ride), exemplifying resilience, strength, and determination – qualities needed to pave the road for mental health advocacy.
Opportunities like this one provide physicians, medical students, and community members with an opportunity to create a culture of openness. By de-stigmatizing mental health issues, we are creating an atmosphere that empowers and encourages a younger generation to see vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness. Medical professionals, and medical students are key to changing the discussion around stigmatized mental health issues. We are setting the standard and expectations for the future generation of colleagues and aspiring physicians. Although the culture has begun to shift, there is a long road ahead in medicine. While we must continue to inspire and encourage youth to be the key players in changing the conversation surrounding mental health, it is important to remember that health care providers are not immune to the same mental health issues. The QMed Cycle Team members, the Wellness and Mental Health Committee, and the Anti-Stigma Campaigns are all concrete examples of our medical students creating awareness and opening the discussion surrounding mental health issues.
If you are interested in making a donation to our team and helping end the stigma surrounding mental health in young people, you can follow the link below.
If you are interested in joining our QMed Cycles team, you can register at: https://www.jack.org/ride