Charity Spotlight: This blog post was provided by Lucas Walters, Jack.org Talks Speaker, Chapter Lead and Network Representative from Jack.org, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
In 2010, Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington lost their son Jack to suicide. In hindsight there were warning signs, but —like many of us—Jack’s family, professors and peers didn’t know what warnings signs to look out for and what to do if, or when, warning signs appeared. Unfortunately Jack’s story isn’t unique, suicide remains the leading health related cause of death for young people in Canada.
After their loss, Eric and Sandra asked questions. How can this happen? What can we do to eradicate this in future generations? After a lot of searching, they discovered one core truth that changed everything: the greatest advocates for youth mental health are young people themselves. From that point forward, they built Jack.org from the ground up; Canada’s only charity that trains and empowers young leaders to revolutionize mental health. Jack.org’s programs are all totally youth-led. They give the microphone, the torch, and the tools to young changemakers of today. With more than 10.2 million young people living in Canada, imagine if every single one of us chose to use our voice to break the silence and barriers associated with mental health and illness.
At Jack.org, I am one of those changemakers. I’m a Jack Talks speaker, Jack Chapter Lead in Newfoundland, and a Jack.org Network Representative, which means I stand and represent the other 2,499 young advocates in our network. My experiences, much like yours, are a unique set of stories, histories, and memories that have shaped me into the person and advocate that I am today.
This is My Story
I was born and raised in rural Newfoundland to a loving family and a network of lifelong friends. I did well in school, and involved myself in a variety of sports, volunteer groups, and student initiatives. As far as anyone could tell, I was fine. But from a young age, I struggled with concepts of sexuality and body image. I lived with monsters, not knowing who I was or what I felt. I was terrified by how I perceived myself. These monsters manifested as depression and anxiety.
I began to remove myself from the active world, isolating myself in a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviours. You see, depression doesn’t want you to get better; it wants you to push people away. I couldn’t see my own self-worth and I began to question the value of my life.
“You see, depression doesn’t want you to get better; it wants you to push people away. I couldn’t see my own self-worth and I began to question the value of my life.” —Lucas Walters, Jack.org Talks Speaker, Chapter Lead and Network Representative
But even in the most challenging of times, I decided to make the most important move of my life. I reached out to those around me and I got the medical attention I needed. I was privileged to have access to a psychiatrist who helped me work out a treatment plan, and a social worker who helped me through some particularly low points. I finally had names and diagnoses for the monsters.
But even today, I continue to face hurdles. I am working to ensure that the millions of other young people struggling know that their problems are not insurmountable. I’ve left my hometown to study psychology and work on my career as a mental health advocate.
This blog is an act of advocacy, and sharing my story with you will help to break the silence.
Another Word For Silence is Stigma
You may have experienced this kind of silence yourself, or you may have seen it in those around you. It’s the silence felt when we can’t express ourselves for fear of judgement or misunderstanding. This silence cocoons and isolates us, separating us from friends and family, and puts up walls where there should be windows. Silence means people take on mental health struggles alone without support, reassurance, guidance or love. This silence is felt, and worsened, by those who don’t have access to the resources needed when they struggle with mental health.
I’ve known this silence. I’ve felt this silence. But here’s the good news: in my first year of university I was connected to Jack.org, a network of young leaders all across Canada. Young leaders from every province and territory fighting tirelessly to fill this silence. 2,500 of us helping our peers access the tools and resources so sorely needed by those struggling with mental health issues. We all bring our own skills and strengths as we deliver hundreds of Jack Talks presentations to schools and communities, break barriers locally through 146 Jack Chapters and come together to collaborate at one national summit and 19 regional summits across Canada – and that’s just this year.
We are Jack.org. A network that has inspired me, as a mental health advocate, in immeasurable ways. I see Jack.org as the mental health megaphone into which we can all loudly make demands for a better mental health landscape across Canada. Through the three programs listed below, Jack.org trains and empowers young leaders to catalyze necessary change for mental health in Canada.
- Jack Talks: Professionally trained and certified youth speakers using the power of personal stories to inspire, engage, educate and equip young people to take care of themselves and their peers. Ensuring that every young person knows how to identify if themselves or their peers are struggling, and how to access help when it’s needed.
- Jack Chapters: Trained youth-led groups working year round at high schools, universities, colleges and community organizations to identify and and dismantle barriers to positive mental health in their communities.
- Jack Summits: Youth led summits inspiring change and action at a local level.
Jack.org and its supporters are fueling a movement. And we’re just getting started. Progress has been made, but there are still too many young people struggling with their mental health and dying by suicide.
I’ll leave you with this: what is broken each time it is named?