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Mental Health

Mental Health Activist, Author, and Sorority Sister: An Interview with Karys Peterson-Katz

A student at McGill University, and a close friend of mine, Karys Peterson-Katz is somebody who is extremely involved in the community and not afraid to speak out about the things that matter to her. This week, I had the chance of sitting down with her to find out more about what drives and sustains her.

Val Namaki for Her Campus McGill: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Karys Peterson-Katz: My name is Karys Peterson-Katz. I’m 20 years old, and I’m a student in the cognitive science program at McGill University, in the neuroscience stream. I’m originally from London, Ontario, though I recently moved to Montreal full time.

                                                                                            Picture by Ananya Vijay

HC McGill: You’re very vocal and active on social media when it comes to discussing mental health and the stigma that often surrounds it. Why is this so important to you?

Karys: Discussing mental health and the stigma around it is extremely important to me for many reasons but for one because I’m somebody that deals with mental health everyday. In fact, everybody does, but some people just have a little bit of a harder time with it. So because it’s something that impacts everyday of my life, I find that talking about it is a really important thing because then you know that other people are identifying with you. One of the main reasons I’m very active on social media about it is because one of my close friends in my senior year of high school actually passed away to suicide, which had a big impact on how I felt about reaching out myself. At the time, it seemed like struggling alone was still an option, and something like that really opens up your eyes to things you never even thought were possible. It’s really important to me because I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through that, either as the person who is struggling or seeing your friend struggle and not even knowing about it.  

You can follow Karys on instagram @karyspk

HC McGill: You’re also a published author. Where did the inspiration for your poetry book, SOFT GIRL, come from?

Karys: That’s a long story. It’s actually something that I’ve been working on for a very long time. I started it in my first year of high school, actually. So some of my poems in the book, there’s about just over a hundred, are about six or seven years old. I started this project where I wanted to write one poem a day for a year, which I actually accomplished. That was really important to me because for one, my therapist said that finding a creative outlet was helpful and beneficial, and she was entirely right about that. I found that writing about how you felt and the things you were dealing with really helped you focus on the important parts of the situations you were dealing with. Using a creative outlet is so important because you’re channeling your energy in things that can better you or better the world around you instead of focusing on the negative things that might happen if you don’t get better. I also want to say that I would not have been able to publish SOFT GIRL without Madison Powers and the amazing artwork she contributed to it. You can follow her @morethanclay on instagram!

HC McGill: That’s amazing. Where can readers purchase SOFT GIRL?

Karys: It is available for sale on Amazon!

You can check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/soft-girl-poetry-Karys-Peterson-Katz/dp/1974667685/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1521351889&sr=8-3&keywords=soft+girl+book.

                                                                                       Picture by Miranda Waibel

HC McGill: How has your experience as a person on the receiving end of the medical system impacted your life and career goals?

Karys: It impacts my life by being my life. I can’t separate myself from anything I’ve dealt with or anything I go through because it’s not something that just began or ended. It’s something that I still deal with everyday. I don’t even remember the day it started; it seems like something that’s always been around, and in some shape or form, it has. I would say it’s impacted my career, or student goals by making me realize that I can take breaks. I’m very goal driven, I want to succeed, to accomplish the most things I can, and when you’re struggling, it feels like that’s impossible, like you’re never going to get there, and that’s scary. When you’re pushing yourself, you just keep pushing yourself until get to a breaking point. And as somebody who’s struggling, it’s really important to realize that you can stop, and realize that if you don’t finish your degree in 4 years, it’s not the end of the world. Especially when you’re a student at McGill, where everything is competitive and everyone wants to be a doctor or lawyer, wants to be the best versions of themselves, it’s so important to be like “I can stop, and I can take time”. You can travel, or you can write like I have, you can take a year off and do anything and in the big picture if it’s going to help you, then it’s going to help your career, even if you get there a year later. Everybody is so focused on finishing things before other people and finishing in first place and that’s not everything, it’s just not. So I would say focusing on my mental health in terms of school work and career goals has been important because it’s made me realize that if you’re trying your best, that’s all you can ask for.

HC McGill: You’re part of Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority, as the Vice President of Academic Excellence. Can you talk about the impact (if any) this organization has had on you?

Karys: There’s so many negative stereotypes surrounding sororities, and I went into recruitment having the prejudice that so many people do, but being a part of it completely changes your mind. The number one thing is that you’re not alone, ever. You will never have to study alone, or get coffee alone, and on the nights you even feel your loneliest you could message one girl and you will have ten girls will show up with coffee and cookies and hugs and movies. The impact the organization has had on me has been one of friendship and growth and understanding that these women will push you to uncover your potential.

A big part of my role as Vice President of Academic Excellence is to understand how people work, and not just when it comes to school. It’s understanding and helping people, which I found has helped me so much in realizing we all feel that “I’m the only one going through this” feeling, and realizing that you’re not. You realize some people fail exams, and then they can still get an A in the class, and it’s inspirational to see how far other people have come, and it’s inspirational to hear their stories. I love being a part of something so much bigger than myself.

HC McGill: What words of advice do you have for people who may be dealing with similar issues?

Karys: I would say the number one thing that I’m sure a lot of people have heard so many times before is tell somebody. Reach out. That is the hardest step. One hundred percent the first step is the worst one, because when you’re in that position you don’t want to. You don’t want to go anywhere because you feel like you can’t, but the second you realize you can is when everything changes, and you don’t realize how much better things can get until they do. It’s this convoluted system where you have to force yourself, and for some people it feels impossible, but the most important thing you can do is tell somebody, because guaranteed people will understand, identify, and want to help. That’s exactly what sisters are for, and what professors are for, and what the facilities at McGill University are for. And although so many things around here could do with some improving, they’re there because they want you to be here. That’s the whole point.

Images obtained from the interviewee.

21 year-old McGill Undergraduate student majoring in english drama/theatre with minors in sociology and communications. 
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