National mental health initiative starts chapter at UBC

Jack.org, an initiative that aims at de-stigmatizing mental health on university campuses, is coming to UBC.

“There’s a discontinuity between physical health and mental health,” said Madi Wood, the leader of Jack.org at UBC. “The way we talk about mental health is not at all congruent with the way we speak about physical health. [With] physical health, we take a lot of preventive measures…. [With mental health], people aren’t aware of how preventative measures can be taken.”

Another aspect of the stigma, Wood points out, has to do with the way we discuss suicide. “[The issue is about] the connotation of the word ‘committed.’ It’s a word that equates the act with crimes like murder, which is negatively connotated [sic] and not directly translatable to suicide,” she explained.

Originally called the Jack Project, the initiative was started in 2010 after Jack Windeler, a Queen’s University student, died as a result of suicide.

The Jack Project was previously a subset of Kids Help Phone and helped to launch an online chat service and mobile app to make it easier for young people to reach out.

In 2012, the project shifted focus from working with students to develop initiatives to decrease the stigma and improve mental health on university campuses. Now Jack.org is an independent charity with 71 chapters across Canada — all led by youth — aiming to raise awareness about mental health and reduce the stigma associated with it.

One of the ways that Jack.org at UBC is doing this is through social media. Their Facebook page frequently shares articles, photos and videos from around the internet speaking about mental health. They also have used their Facebook following to promote another group at UBC — the UBC Mental Illness Network for Destigmatization (UBC MIND). Specifically, Jack.org picked up MIND's “Speak Up” video.

“The fact that they are med students speaks volumes to how related [mental health issues] are to physical health ... people who are med students not only have these same issues, but also want to tackle them,” said Wood, who hopes that the group can collaborate with as many other organizations as possible in the future.

As a chapter in a national organization, Jack.org at UBC gets $800 in funding each year from the main organization in order to plan two initiatives on campus that are used to start a positive conversation around mental health. The group already has the two required events in the works. They will be screening a film at Gamma Phi Beta’s film festival to raise awareness and are planning an initiative for first years that's set to take place at Vanier and Totem Park residences on November 24th.

Wood hopes these actions will create real change at UBC. “We have the ability to change the conversation [and to] get people to realize that it’s okay to not be okay,” said Wood. “It’s okay to have that conversation.”