If you look at my twitter account (@juliaporsche), you’ll see that my pinned tweet says “Sometimes I like to imagine a world where mental health is talked about as freely as the weather.” Before March 4th, this “world” was truly one I could only imagine.
What changed on March 4th? The 2016 Jack Summit happened. 200 high school and university students from all across Canada gathered in Toronto to spark change in regards to mental health and the stigma surrounding it. Within that community, I didn’t have to just imagine that world, I got to experience it.
So what is the Jack Summit? Check out Jack.org to get familiar with it. I posed a question to my fellow Jack Summit delegates: “What ONE word best describes what the Jack Summit is?” Here’s what they said:
“Inclusive!” “Friendship!!” “Collaboration” “Important” “Revolutionary”
“Inspirational” “Opportunity” “Spectacular” “Passion”
My mild-to-severe social media addiction has led to me exploring many organizations and events that focus on the topic of mental health. When the Jack Summit 2016 application time came around, I knew I couldn’t not apply. Although instability in my personal mental health stirred up hesitancy in my parents, my desire to meet like-minded people, reduce stigma, raise awareness, and speak openly about the world of mental health won.
At my high school, we have a Mental Health Committee, and so I spread the word to others in the committee, and I’m grateful I did, for my Jack Summit experience was enhanced by having a friend who also attended and therefore supported me, learned with me, and laughed with me.
Now, here’s the unbelievable part: although we did have to fundraise a mere $250 each, the flights, hotel, meals, and other costs for the 3-day conference were covered by the organization and its AMAZING sponsors. The only downfall to getting a free experience is that the attendance has to be limited.
Of the ~800 students who filled out applications saying why mental health matters to them, what they already do at school, and how to sell sea monkeys, only 200 could be accepted. I am forever grateful to Jack.org for accepting me as a delegate. <3
To give you an idea of the atmosphere of the summit, we started off on Friday night in the MaRS Discovery District sitting on giant bean bags and couches. Of course, my ineffable excitement meant I claimed the bean bag at the very front in the very center. My personal experiences with depression, anxiety, and anorexia have led to mental health being a huge part of my life, an d consequently I’ve developed an unmeasurable amount of passion towards the topic.
There, in that room, I finally wasn’t the only one with so much passion towards mental health.
The weekend would have been amazing even if us 200 students were just left to our own devices to discuss and share and brainstorm. But the amazing Jack.org team had so much in store for us:
- Dexter, a Jack Summit alumni, was the host/MC for the weekend, and with his humour, personal experience, charisma, and performance power, he was hands down the best host I’ve experienced at any event.
- Gourmet food, Wear Your Label-made t-shirts, fantabulous shades, and hats from Hats On For Awareness.
- Movember Foundation hosted Movember Sessions, where three musicians shared their struggles and experiences with mental health not only through talking but also through song.
- Eric Windeler (founder and executive director of Jack.org, since his son Jack passed away due to suicide) blessed us with words and also his sick dance moves.
- Morgan Baskin told us about her experience being a leader by running for mayor of Toronto at age 18.
- Workshops, such as “Pitch Perfect” where I learned how to effectively engage and intrigue an audience with my ideas and needs.
- Clara Hughes (Olympic athlete and mental health advocate) was a surprise guest, and gave a discussion-style speech about the power we have to create change.
- Wear Your Label founders Kyle and Kayley talked about how after attending the summit a few years ago, they have created a company that sparks conversation around mental health.
- Surprise social event at The Second City where we got to do an improv workshop!
- On the final day, Spoke N’ Heard amazed us all with their spoken word performances, and facilitated discussions on what our dreams are in terms of mental health in our society, and why these dreams matter.
- To help in keeping the action going after we went home, the last day also had speakers from the Jack Talks program and different Jack Chapters across Canada talking about what worked and how to become involved!
My takeaways? Well, I could go on for hours, but here are the main few:
Even if I’m broken, I can still be a leader, a beacon of hope, and a hero.
With passion and a need, I have POWER to make change.
The challenge we need to tackle is to get the uninvolved involved.
To change society’s attitude, we need to start the conversations in childhood.
For more of my takeaways, watch my video about the weekend.
I’ll end off with similar words to a tweet I sent during the summit: the weekend was exhausting: it was a LOT of learning, a lot of being open and vulnerable, and a lot communicating and socializing. But you know what?
No matter how tired I was by the time I had to go to school the next day, it’s nothing compared to how tired I am of the stigma and silence around mental health.
Read more from Julia on her blog, The Pursuit of Radiance.