Making Noise About Mental Health
When we look back on university, we see it through rosy lenses, as a time of stimulation and excitement, where anything seemed possible.
It can also be a time of danger. Mental illness most commonly strikes those under the age of 24. A new environment, new challenges – and new responsibilities – plus the stress of wanting to do well can trigger psychological problems. Troubled students may not know where to turn. Others may not see their peers struggling.
jack.org wants to help. Dedicated to informing young people about mental health it was founded by Eric Windeler, Com'82, and named for his son Jack, a first-year Queen’s student who died by suicide in 2010.
"We believe that there were indications that there were changes in his behaviour," Windeler says, "but the people he was around – students, teaching assistants, dons – didn’t have the tools to recognize what he was going through."
"I was astounded by how little discussion there was around this subject. Something had to be done to make this a mainstream topic."
In the fall of 2012, Principal Daniel Woolf signed an agreement to bring The Jack Project to Queen's. "jack.org," as it is now called, is engaging with student leaders and the administration to create programs that will be student inspired and aimed at young people to help them talk openly about mental health. In March 2013, the project sponsored the first-ever student summit on youth mental health, "Unleash the Noise." Drawing students from more than eighty-five schools across Canada, the conference was entirely student-inspired and led. Eleven of the twelve key organizers were students from Queen’s.
Students aren't the only members of the Queen's community to have taken jack.org to heart. At last year's reunion, the class of 1982 made it their beneficiary charity, attracting more than 175 donations. The class of '83 plans to follow their example.
"If alumni are moved to contribute that's great," says Windeler. "But if they’ve got young people in their family or their extended family, please make them aware of this important discussion."