2018 Medavie Scholarship Recipients12/03/2018
The Medavie Scholarship honours Pierre-Yves Julien, the former CEO of Medavie, who believed that improving the lives of those impacted by chronic conditions doesn’t start at the doctor’s office, but in our homes and community centres, and on our playgrounds. For 2018, we’re pleased to award scholarships to three individuals who are determined to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Mental health has influenced many of Erika Campbell’s choices in life, including her involvement with Jack.org, a student-led mental health network, but it was through her own traumatic experience that she truly realized the profound effect mental health can have on one’s life.
During her first year of university while studying abroad, Erika was the victim of an assault. Through this difficult time, as a coping mechanism, Erika distanced herself from her feelings and forced herself to move on. She thought she was coping just fine, but back at Queen’s University and heading into her third year, that’s when she began struggling with anxiety.
“Suddenly, the feelings I’d felt immediately following the incident came rushing back and I was faced with constant reminders of what had happened,” says Erika. “Unfortunately, this led to a decline in my mental health as well as my academic performance.”
Erika credits the counsellors at Queen’s for providing her with coping skills to help manage her anxiety and is grateful for the immense support she received from her friends and Jack.org. Founded by Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington of Toronto after losing their son Jack to suicide, Jack.org trains and empowers youth to transform the way we think about mental health through Jack Talks, Chapters and Summits.
“I was in awe of everything Eric and Sandra had done in honour of their late son Jack, and couldn’t imagine anywhere better to continue my education than at the place where this incredible organization was started,” says Erika. “It’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know them, to be a part of this organization, and to become a mental health advocate after my personal experience.”
Equipped with the tools to manage her anxiety, Erika noticed the lack of a student-led consent education program on campus. Determined that others not struggle as she did, she founded “Consensual Humans.” With a focus on changing behaviours, it works to promote consent among the student body. Asked about her plans for the club, she says, “I really hope it has a lasting impact and that it can be expanded to other university campuses across Canada.”
As she enters the last year of her science degree at Queen’s, Erika plans to pursue a career in global health and health policy, with a particular focus on women’s health. Receiving this scholarship means she’ll have more time to give back to the community and continue her advocacy work.
“I want to change how mental health is perceived and how it is advocated for,” adds Erika. “Through the work of organizations such as Jack.org, I believe real change can be made.”
My life is the sea.
At a young age a stone was thrown into my water.
Since then, there have been waves.
For as long as Valerie Hemeon can remember, putting out fires and fending off demons has been a regular part of her day. Bullied from a young age at school, significant family responsibilities, including supporting siblings with mental illness, and fractured relationships all led to her struggling with mental illness herself.
“My struggles with anxiety and depression led me to finish high school online – anything to not have to face the bullies anymore,” recalls Valerie. “Through my high school guidance counsellor, I was lucky to learn about Phoenix.” Phoenix Youth Programs is a Halifax-based organization dedicated to supporting youth and their families.
Valerie’s visits with a Phoenix therapist helped ease her pain, providing her with coping skills and counselling her through a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder. More than that, Phoenix helped her thrive. Determined to succeed academically, she graduated high school with high honours and is now studying psychology at Mount Saint Vincent University.
“In addition to the bullying, the taunting, and the name-calling, it was the terrible experiences me and my sisters endured that made me want to study psychology and pursue a career as a clinical psychologist,” says Valerie. “I was the only person supporting my sisters through their mental health struggles, and for a long time there was nobody there for me when I needed support.”
For Valerie, the quote, “be the person you needed when you were younger,” has taken on special meaning. She thinks about how other people continue to go through the same experiences she did, with nobody to support them. “From my own lived experience, I understand what others are going through. I want to help them and let them know they’re not alone, that there are people out there who can provide support.”
Valerie aspires to work at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax as a clinical psychologist, helping as many children as possible by providing them with the supports and tools they need to live their best lives. She says this scholarship is helping provide her with the financial means to continue her education and that dream.
The waves do not drown me, but rather push me to where I need to be.
At just 13 years old, Taylor MacKinley’s world changed forever when her father died by suicide. While the grief of missing her father will never go away, his death ignited a desire in Taylor to become a mental health advocate. Thankful for her family and the support she received as she struggled to come to terms with what had happened in her life, Taylor was inspired to make a difference in the lives of others.
“No one knew how badly my dad was suffering and I knew I wanted to help people who are suffering as he did,” says Taylor.She adds that her hometown of Miramichi is a small community that has felt the impact of suicide. “I sat down with my mom and told her about my idea – that I wanted to start an awareness group at my school, James M. Hill Memorial, where students could get educated on mental health and suicide warning signs.” Her mom was very supportive, and when Taylor brought it up at school, her peers were also very supportive and wanted to get involved. “It just took off from there,” she adds.
From that, the “JMH Let’s Talk” group was born. During her senior year, Taylor and her friends spent hours brainstorming and researching, determined to become changemakers. One of the group’s first projects was the development of a resource for students that listed places and organizations they could call if they needed help during a mental health crisis. “The young people in that group were remarkable,” recalls Taylor. She’s proud the group remains active and considers it her lasting legacy at her high school. She also hopes to incorporate a similar support group in other schools and bring it to the community level.
Taylor is at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton studying psychology, and says receiving the Medavie Scholarship will allow her to focus on her studies without having to worry about finances. “Years from now I hope to be working as a clinical psychologist in Miramichi,” adds Taylor. “I want to be a counsellor that is out in the community, engaging with everyone, getting people talking, and helping end the stigma that surrounds mental illness.”