Edited by: Carol Eugene Park
Clubs fair at the University of Toronto – St. George Campus is one of the most exciting events held during Orientation week. I believe joining a club that you are truly interested in can make your time in university meaningful and enjoyable. As a member of Jack.org UofT, I thought it would be awesome to interview the team in order to encourage students to join this incredible organization. I sat down with Daniel Derkach, a second-year Masters student of Institute of Medical Science, and Kelly Aiello, a third-year student in Neuroscience and English. Jack.org UofT is committed to raising awareness about the importance of mental health and ending the stigma associated with it.
What is the purpose of Jack.org UofT?
Our purpose is the following: we want to put pressure on faculty, administration, and student governments to put more emphasis on mental health and mental wellness among students. More education, more resources, and more funding. We want a little bit more cohesion between the mental health student clubs. We want to educate our peers about mental health as well. Five in five of us have mental health, but one in five of us will experience a mental illness or some sort of crisis at a given point in our lifetime. How would we recognize this in ourselves, as well as in our peers, and our friends? What would we do? This is what we are interested in.
Why do you think that the topic of mental health should be brought up more in schools?
I don’t think it is discussed as much as it should be. Not everyone has the “mental health talk”. Would anybody really think about having a mental health checkup? We get physical checkups often, therefore why wouldn’t we do the same for our mental health? They are both part in part. One comes with the other. If your physical health is not well, your mental health probably won’t be, and vice-versa.
What should students do to stay mentally healthy during the school year?
I think it is an individual thing. Everybody works at different levels of stress that they can manage. They should ask themselves what feels comfortable for them. What helps me is building a good support network. I also think communication with your professors, friends, and roommates is important too. Learning how to recognize a problem when it arises and knowing what to do during the situation is vital.
What advice do you have for students who are anxious about the upcoming school year?
Find out what your resources are. Talk to your professors and don’t be afraid to reduce your work/course load. University is a very difficult transition for a lot of students. Take it bit by bit.
When was Jack.org established?
Jack.org was established in 2010, in partnership with Kids Help Phone. After a few years, in 2013, Jack.org became its own independent registered charity. Since then, it has been operating independently across Canada in high schools and universities, trying to get students involved and to start Jack.org chapters in their own schools.
How can students get involved with Jack.org UofT?
Students can get involved primarily through volunteering during different advocacy initiatives. One of our main focuses this year is to try to foster more collaboration amongst different student groups across campus already engaged in mental health initiatives. This way, we can be much more united as a network of students who are interested in mental health advocacy. We will consequently have a bigger impact when it comes to discussing topics with administration, faculty, etc. We need to have them engaged in the conversation with us and we need them to be willing to allocate more funding and resources towards mental health services on campus. There are a lot of services that students might not be taking advantage of, but there are also services that students do take advantage of. We want to change the environment for students and make sure that they are able to receive the care that they need. We hope administration, faculty, etc, will be open and willing to accommodate students when necessary.
What made you want to join Jack.org?
I hope to help youth become more comfortable when it comes to talking about mental health. I learned about some of the statistics. Although one in five Canadians are likely to experience mental illness in their lifetime, only one in four will actually receive the help they need. A large reason for that is the stigma, especially amongst youth. Students do not feel comfortable talking about their mental health. In academically stressful and competitive institutions, such as UofT, students often feel as if they come off as weak when they talk about their mental health. We want to change that culture. We want to change this perception of mental health and make students, the administration, and faculty take it more seriously. We want students to know that it is an issue that they need to be talking about. It affects all of us. Whether or not we experience mental illness, we should all take part in the conversation.
What do you think people should know about Jack.org?
I think what people should know about Jack.org is that we are different from a lot of other mental health advocacy organizations in the way that we try to promote a positive message. There are a lot of mental health organizations which talk about mental health in a very negative way. It always has to do with suicide and hopelessness and how serious of an issue it is. Although we do emphasize that it is a serious issue that we need to be talking about, we try to motivate students to feel like they have the power to help change the environment within their own community, to help each other, to help themselves. We try to leave students with a positive note whenever we engage with them.