Friday, 13 March 2015

Inspiring Others to "Walk Their Talk" By Elaine Newman

There are times in a person's life, amazing fleeting times, when they know what they believe in and stand for, has made a difference in shaping the choices of others.  These are the times we wait for and treasure, when we realize all of our hard work and effort has resonated with people we love and hope to inspire.  For parents, aunts and uncles and other adult family members, this is the defining moment with children. Last night, I had such a moment.

My daughter, Alexandra graduated last November from McGill University in Montreal with a Master of Science (MSc) Family Medicine.  Her thesis focused on the well sibling experience of anxiety and depression in young adults.  Her brother (my son) Michael has struggled with severe anxiety his entire life and her personal experience as his sister influenced her choice of thesis topic.  Much has been studied and written about the impact of mental health issues on the family unit from the individual's as well as the parent's perspective, but little to no research has been centered on the well sibling's experience.  Alexandra's thesis utilized qualitative research to explore the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the study group of 18 to 25 year old well siblings. This was a true case of lived experience shaping important choices in our life.

Alexandra was invited by the McGill Students' Chapter to talk about her thesis and the impact that mental health issues have on the whole family unit at their Bridge the Gap speaker series this week. is the only national network of young leaders transforming the way we think about mental health.  With initiatives and programs designed for young people, by young people, they strive to end the stigma in our generation.  

In 2010, Jack Windeler was a first year student at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  He was a lively, bright and funny young man who was also struggling with mental illness.  Halfway through the school year, his grades dropped, he stopped going to class and he became disinterested and disengaged. Like many young people, Jack couldn't reach out for help.  In March 2010, Jack died by suicide. His loss devastated his family, shocked the Queen's community and started a movement. Following his death, his parents, Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington asked friends and family to make donations to Kids Help Phone in Jack's memory.  The outpouring of support created the foundation for The Jack Project which has since grown into a registered Canadian charity which focuses its efforts on decreasing stigma and improving mental well being on campuses.”

Back in September 2014, my son Michael started his freshman year at college and it was no surprise to us that he chose to attend Queens University.  What was surprising to us was that he could go away to college at all.  With his severe anxiety, he had never, and I mean never, been able to participate in overnight school trips, stay at friend's houses or travel by himself.  With the support of his family, friends, doctor, and coach who he had worked with since age 8, Michael started a year-long plan focused on enabling him to attend a university away from Toronto. 

Michael not only saw this as an opportunity to enable and empower his own life, he developed into a champion for other people living with mental health disabilities. Michael quickly became an ally and mentor for younger students in his school who were experiencing the all too familiar fears and anxiety that have plagued him for so many years. 

With this new glimpse of discovery into his own purpose, Michael has been exploring endeavors he couldn’t have conceived possible just a short time ago.  He has been invited to and has spoken at school events, as well as attended outside conferences with his school counsellor, a personal mentor of his for the past 9 years.  Most importantly Michael accomplished this amazing goal that he had set out for himself, while at the same time leaving others to feel inspired to do the same.

Last night, I received an unexpected gift, packaged in a brief Facebook comment.  As most of us do these days, my daughter Alexandra took to her Facebook profile, to make mention of her speaking engagement with the McGill Students' Chapter

Michael left the following comment:

"really proud of my big sister Alex for speaking about her thesis at McGill today! As someone who has struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, having a family member focus a thesis on mental health issues and helping others affected by this is the best thing I could ever ask for! Love You."

I told my children last night, how proud I was of both of them for "walking the talk" and being role models and advocates for individuals with mental health issues.  Awareness, understanding, advocacy and empathy are critical to supporting others in every respect.  If all of us can focus on inspiring others in some way, big or small, to "walk their talk", the world will truly become a better place. 

"Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?" ~ Robert Kennedy 


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