“You don’t choose mental illness; mental illness chooses you.” That was just one of the poignant insights shared by Justin Scaini, president of student engagement for the Jack Project, at assembly on April 14. His talk kicked off Mental Health Week at UCC, a weeklong series of events designed to destigmatize an affliction that affects up to 20 per cent of youth.
Scaini is the face of a mental-health awareness organization started when Jack Windeler, 18, took his own life at Queen’s University. (Jack’s father Eric attended the presentation.) “No one should have to suffer like Jack,” said Scaini. Only one in five youth seek help, owing to pervading stereotypes of masculinity, despite the prevalence of mental anguish.
“Young guys think they need to be strong, resilient, athletic and tough,” he said. “But showing vulnerability isn’t a weakness; it takes courage.”
Scaini, who initiated Canada’s first student-led summit on mental illness last March, called “Unleash the Noise,” urged the audience to do three things: Reach for support when necessary, whether it’s parents or teachers; Support someone who’s undergoing any behaviour changes. Say “I’m worried. Are you okay?”; And finally, be a leader in your community to support mental health awareness.
As head of Senior Division Scott Cowie said, referring to a slide of Edvard Munch famed portrait of modern anxiety, “The Scream”: “There are two pals in the background in that painting. If they’d asked [the main subject] what’s wrong, he wouldn’t have had to walk alone,” (He was referencing UCC’s unofficial spirit anthem, “You’ll never walk alone.”)