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Loyalist College joins suicide prevention initiative

By Marc Venema

Loyalist College student Elsa Baragar didn’t hesitate to get involved when she learned a mental health awareness and prevention program was coming to the college.

The second year student in the social service worker program has a long history with mental illness and the subject of suicide. It’s something that has run in her family.

When Elsa started to recover and feel better, she decided to make it her mission to try and help people who suffer from the same thing she struggled with.

When she heard that Loyalist College was going to be involved with The Jack Project, she wasted no time getting involved.

In March 2010, Jack Windeler killed himself at the age of 18. He was in his first year at Queens University in Kingston. No one around Jack noticed any signs or symptoms of depression or sadness until it was to late.

Now, Jack’s dad Eric wants to change that. He has started “The Jack Project”, a program that focuses on recognizing signs of mental illness before it’s too late, as well as raising awareness of mental illness, particularly amongst transitioning young adults in the 15-24 year-old range.

The program is an initiative of Kids Help Phone in partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Baragar feels that if people who suffer from mental illness could be open about the subject, significant changes would be made.

“That’s what ‘The Jack Project’ is all about, making it okay to talk about this subject,” she said.

“Our biggest goal is to make everyone aware that these things are happening and to prevent them from taking place again.”

Baragar said she knows how it can feel to be down and out and is now determined to make a difference in other lives.

“Its really important me. I am willing to do whatever it takes to help other people.”

The province -wide program focuses in on prevention and awareness of mental health illness, especially in young people.

Loyalist College has joined the project, along with 11 other post-secondary schools in Ontario. The main objective is to raise awareness of mental illness and also provide mental health first aid training. About 60 staff and students at the college will undergo training to notice and understand signs of mental illness. Student government leaders, residence advisors and staff will be among those taking the training.

Mark Gallupe, a professor in the social service worker program at Loyalist, said people in the age group of 15-24 are most vulnerable. He believes this project can help them get over the bumps in life while staying in school and being successful.

“It may prevent someone from taking their own life,” Gallupe said.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, people aged 15-24 have a higher than average rate of mental ill health and less access to support than other age groups. Many of them are scared to talk about their problems.

Gallupe said it’s important that a program be put in place that allows the youth to be able to get help and feel comfortable about seeking help because mental illness is treatable.

The commission says that the majority of young people who experience mental health issues will feel better with counseling, medication or both; it’s just a matter of getting young people that help.

Gallupe said he’s thrilled to be a part of the part of the project.

“I think its very timely and could serve a very important role at the college and personally just very proud to be associated with it,” he said.

Gallupe also said that Eric Windeler, the man behind the project, would be invited to speak at the college in November.

Sandie Sidsworth, executive director at the Hastings and Prince Edward Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, contacted Gallupe back in April about the program. Loyalist College signed on in June.

“We are so excited to be working with Loyalist on this, especially those folks in the special programs.” Sidsworth said. “I’m hoping this will be a big impact in our community with their support.”

Sidsworth said it’s important that some members of the college who connect with a lot of students will get training to detect mental illness. She said that people usually notice the signs of depression and mental illness too late.

“Young people find it very difficult to say I’m sad and struggling with depression or grief,” Sidsworth said.

“Instead, what happens is it starts to overwhelm and by the time anyone’s noticing the signs it’s often too late because it’s always done in hindsight. All the signs that we begin to see afterwards come to late.”