Fighting for mental health

Eric Windeler raises awareness about mental illness in young adults

Eric Windeler, Comm ’82, talks to frosh leaders about mental health illness in university.
Eric Windeler, Comm ’82, talks to frosh leaders about mental health illness in university.
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Eric Windeler lost his son to suicide last March and is now on a crusade to promote mental health awareness at Queen’s.

His son Jack was in first year and suffered from depression. Windeler, Comm ’82, is focusing on helping other young adults who are transitioning into university.

“You’re in a new environment. You’re in the top of your class in high school and then getting to university you realize everyone is at the top of their class,” he said, adding that this is just one example of the kind of stresses emerging adults face in university.

In order to help others, Windeler set up the Jack Windeler Memorial Fund.

The Fund, which operates through the Kids Help Phone, has raised close to $300,000 in an effort to combat the mental health issues seen all too commonly at university.

Donations to the fund are being used to target mental health issues in 16 to 20 year-olds.

He said his goal is to create awareness around mental health issues and remove the stigma associated with them.

“Normalizing the discussion around mental health is important. A quarter of people of this age are experiencing a mental health issue,” he said. “So many people struggle to get their mind around that. That’s what we’re trying to change. We want to raise awareness, to combat the stigma and show help is available.” For the first time ever, Queen’s residence dons will be trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), Windeler said. He helped accelerate the process initiated by Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS). MHFA is a division of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

“The Queen’s dons will be trained by staff members who have become trainers,” he said.

MHFA training will ensure that people are exposed to the warning signs associated with mental illnesses, he said.

“To give people training in Mental Health First Aid means you can recognize the signs in others that they might be experiencing a mental health issue.”

Windeler spoke to frosh leaders prior to Orientation Week and encouraged them to take the training.

Queen’s students can benefit greatly from frosh leaders who are aware of mental health issues and resources on campus, he said.

Not everyone always has access to a frosh leader or a don so Windeler teamed up with Kids Help Phone to spread his message even further.

The Jack Windeler Memorial Fund is primarily focused on the creation of a website which will discuss mental health issues affecting young adults entering university.

“It will really be targeted to issues youths face in university and high school. This will be geared towards the ‘emerging adult,’” he said, adding that the website doesn’t have an official name yet because it’s still in the research phase.

The research phase, which will continue throughout the year, will explore how 16 to 20 year-olds can best engage with issues of mental health, Windeler said. For example, the website will employ a live chat feature.

“The research phase is about what youth like to read about and how they interact,” he said. “But it will be supported in the background by trained professional councillors. This is one of the special things about Kids Help Phone.”

Windeler said he hopes that eventually the site will encourage peers to motivate each other to learn about mental health issues.

“Kids are a lot more interested in the well-being of their peers than you might realize,” he said.

The website will address mental health issues associated with mood disorders and anxiety disorders but won’t be limited to these alone, Windeler said, adding that mental illness is common in young adults and often manifests itself early.

“Of all mental health issues, basically half of them are already present in people by the time they’re 15. There are a wide range of mental health issues,” he said. “Suicide is just the worst possible outcome.”

Windeler said his goal is to have the site launched before Orientation Week 2012.

“We view this school year as ‘finish the research and get it started.’ Next year we can direct people to the website.”

In order to better help students once they get to university, Windeler is also speaking to them in high school. He spoke at Jack’s former high school, Ridley College on June 7 and plans to return there this fall.

“It’s really a two part story,” he said. “Teach them as they leave high school and as they arrive at university so they know there are resources.”

In addition to encouraging training and raising money, Windeler has produced a video in partnership with Queen’s and MHFA. The video urges people to educate themselves about mental health issues and reach out for help when they need it.

“The video is for so many reasons: awareness, decreasing stigma, [encouraging] training,” he said. “Two things we hope: one, if you’re a regular frosh, you’ll watch the video. And two, dons, after they’re trained, will take their frosh through the video and have a Q & A. [The video] has been received as pretty powerful.”

In honour of World Suicide Prevention Day, please watch Eric Windeler’s video at http://bit.ly/jackwindeler

Correction

Eric Windeler is pictured addressing a group of frosh leaders in the photograph.

Incorrect information originally appeared in this article.

The Journal regrets the error.

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