When Gwyneth finally gathered the courage to tell a friend she suffered from anxiety, the response she got was completely unexpected. “She asked me to show her my scars,” said Gwyneth. When she realized that her peer automatically associated mental illness with self-harm, Gwyneth knew that she needed to do something to educate others about mental health. “There’s so much stigma because people just don’t understand.”

When Gwyneth joined the Jack Chapter at Branksome Hall last year, she was the youngest member. But she didn’t let that intimidate her. A month later, she became a chapter executive. This year, she’s going to be president.

Branksome Hall is an all-girls, independent school located in the heart of Toronto. “Through the initiatives our chapter hosts, more girls are coming forward. They’re talking about mental health and getting help.” That’s why being part of the chapter was so important to Gwyneth.
 
The school’s administration is also taking note. Starting difficult conversations about mental health has sparked a desire in the Branksome Hall administration to tackle some of the many other social justice issues that can impact a student’s mental health. In the fall of 2016, the school welcomed Shy Polley, a high school student from Nova Scotia who advocates for trans issues, to their campus to speak to the girls. 
 
Gwyneth and Shy met for the first time at Jack Summit in March 2016. Making connections with other students was Gwyneth’s favourite part of the summit. Learning about how each delegate tackled the issue of stigma in their unique communities made her feel like she was truly part of a nationwide movement.
 
“You’re in a room with so many other student leaders who just understand,” Gwyneth explains. “Jack Summit was the most amazing experience of my life.”

Gwyneth continued to make connections at the Toronto Independent Schools Local Jack Summit, which she planned with her fellow Branksome Hall chapter members (along with some guidance from their Jack.org Chapter Coordinator, Ocean). In total, 14 private schools from across the Greater Toronto Area came together to learn about mental health, and how to start conversations at their school.

It was a unique experience for Gwyneth. “Most of the schools that came were same-sex. This was the first time we could hear about mental health issues from the perspective of another gender.” After keynotes from Eric Windeler, Founder and Executive Director of Jack.org, Kyle MacNevin, co-founder of Wear Your Label, and school alumni, all of the delegates left feeling inspired and ready to take action. “We really learned how to work together and make change. Now we’re helping our brother school, Crescent, start their own Jack Chapter!”

Being involved with Jack.org has helped grow Gwyneth’s confidence in herself. It showed her that goals are achievable even when they seem impossible. This confidence has motivated her to get involved as an advocate for youth mental health in a number of other ways: she’s a role model for Wear Your Label (check out her feature here), she’s meeting with Justin Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary to talk about mental health, she has a meeting with CAMH coming up, and she is working with Girls20, an international summit for female empowerment, to find intersectionality with the mental health space.

As if that wasn’t enough, Gwytneth recently volunteered at the Jack Ride Thank-a-thon, where she had the opportunity to thank the people supporting her. “It was really amazing to have an honest conversation with donors about how much their donation meant to me,” Gwyneth says. “I wanted them to know that their donation isn’t going unnoticed. Their donation matters to me”.

Brittany Danishevsky is a student at the University of Guelph studying Psychology and Neuroscience. She shares her story in...