Owen is 10 years old and started experiencing severe anxiety in grade 2, and his mental illness continues to induce panic attacks during the most difficult moments in his life. He became officially diagnosed in grade 5 with anxiety and depression. I spoke with Owen for this particular story and he is a genuine, cheery, intelligent and particularly sweet young man. He is one of the most entertaining and amazing individuals that I have ever had the pleasure of engaging with during my 10-year Stigma-Free Society career. I am humbled and feel so honoured to have spoken with Owen and observe his demonstrated strength in working through his personal challenges.
According to the latest statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association, it is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide. Today, approximately 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode. The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million.
Owen and I discussed how he positively deals with his mental health issues and he attested that sharing his struggles has been the most therapeutic experience. He finds comfort in his parent’s care, love of his friends, and particularly treasures solace in his most practised sport – hockey.
Recently, Owen created a mental health campaign partnered with his mother Lindsay Gee, and produced a fundraising campaign called Pushing for Awareness. Owen and his mom encouraged participants to commit to 50 push-ups for 50 days in order to raise awareness, and funds for childhood mental illness. When people joined the challenge, they received access to an app that keeps track of their push ups and gives them their own fundraising page to share with their friends and family.
Owen and Lindsay have been featured in multiple local newspapers in Victoria, BC and they raised over $5000 together in their efforts. Owen called me personally and proudly voiced that he was donating $1000 of his campaign’s earnings to the Stigma-Free Society. As President of the Charity, I was overwhelmed by this young man who told me that sharing personal stories of mental health experiences is the most important part of healing from a mental illness.
The most significant message that Owen shares is simple, “It’s okay to talk about it.” I had tears in my eyes during our conversation because I felt something much deeper from our short time together.
I have hope for the future because of Owen as he revealed his vulnerabilities to me, a complete stranger, and he feels very safe talking about his emotions. He is paving the way for future generations who may be feeling unsure, or intimidated about sharing their truth with adults who can help them get the assistance that they need.
Thank you Owen for your bravery, courage and simply being an amazing human being. Young people, like you, will help others come forth with their struggles, and you will no doubt save many lives through your transparency. I thank you immensely for your bravery and the Stigma-Free Society is truly grateful for your generous donation to our Stigma-Free Zone Program and we will do everything we can to visit your classroom soon.