This month is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental health and illness. This month says, “Hey, it’s okay that you’re stressed… it’s okay that you’re not feeling well” and asks, “What can we do to help?” A student group on campus whose goal is to answer this question is jack.org. I interviewed my friend Katie, Co-President of the U of T chapter, and asked her about jack.org and how she maintains her own mental well-being.
Q: What is jack.org and how did this chapter come to be at U of T?
Katie: jack.org is an organization run by young leaders that serves to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. Jack is the name of a first-year university student at Queens who committed suicide. His family and friends got together after his death to talk to each other about the importance of mental well-being. Over time, what started as a conversation between a small group of people is now a national movement with chapters all over in Canada in universities, colleges, and high schools. Jack.org pushes to reduce stigma around the topic of mental illness – we focus not just on the 1/5 people who suffer from mental illness but the 5/5 for whom mental health is important.
Q: What are some of the things that the U of T chapter of jack.org has in store for this school year?
Katie: We are collaborating with other groups for an upcoming Art Therapy event. This is one of many midterm/exam destressor events we hold. Last year, we had a ball pit in Sid Smith! We will also be hosting a Satellite Summit in conjunction to the annual Jack Summit where 200 young delegates across Canada hold a conference to talk about mental health issues and how to enact long-lasting change around the way people approach mental illness. We also recently had a Speak-Out event (and will have more!) where students can share their own personal stories about how mental health or illness has affected them.
Q: How can students get involved and show support for jack.org?
Katie: You can come to our events! To keep up-to-date, you can contact us through our Facebook page or email and request to be put on our emailing list. Every September, we put out applications for a volunteer sub-committee who help organize events. But the greatest show of support is to keep the conversation going about mental illness… reach out to your friends, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions like “Are you safe right now?”. And never forget to take care of yourself – again, jack.org is all about helping the 5/5 people – we need to be well before we can help others!
Q: If we suspect or know someone suffering from mental illness, what are some suggestions as to how we would approach them and help them cope?
Katie: Reach out to ask them how they’re doing and make sure that they know that you’re there for them. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help but also remember that you shouldn’t push anyone to do or say anything that they’re not comfortable with or ready for. Keep in mind that their feelings are valid and try your best to point them in a direction to talk to a therapist – don’t try to offer professional advice about something you’re not qualified for. You can also even offer to go to their appointments with them, as a form of emotional support. If you’re really worried about their well-being, try and talk to a family member or someone they’re close with.
Q: What are some ways you cope with bad days and/or stress?
Katie: The first thing I do is talk to my family; my mom, dad, and sister are my biggest support system! I also try and step away from what’s stressing me out, then go for a walk, sit in a coffee shop, or take pictures. Or take a long shower and put on some comfy clothes! I like to get together with my friends – even something small like studying. We may not be talking but it’s still great to know that they’re there.
So U of T, how do you handle stress? Caring for your mental well-being and engaging in this global conversation is the best form of advocacy for this month! Let us know in the comments or shout us out on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #BeWellUofT!