David Walker receives Padre Laverty Award for contributions

Walker celebrated for efforts related to mental health, 175 anniversary

Padre Laverty Award recipient David Walker.
Supplied by Bernard Clark

On June 1st, the Queen’s University Alumni Association awarded David Walker with its highest honour. 

The Padre Laverty award is presented annually to a Queen’s degree holder for their significant contributions to the Queen’s and Kingston community. Created in 1991, the award is named in the honour of Queen’s first University Chaplain, Padre A. Marshall Laverty.

This year the award celebrates Walker’s extensive contribution to mental health and wellness on campus, as well as his volunteer leadership during the current year-long commemoration of Queen’s 175 anniversary. 

“I was very moved and touched by [the award],” Walker said. “It was really others who did most of the work. Students and their families who were in distress held most of the burden.” 

Walker played a significant role in the development of mental health awareness on campus in his position as chair of the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health in 2012. “I had some experience, I spent my life in the emergency department and as a teacher I’ve lived through some of the challenges students have,” he said. “But this really brought it to the forefront.” 

The Commission produced 116 recommendations in a report following the 2010-11 school year, during which six students faced tragic deaths.

Over the year it took to draft the Commission’s report, Walker spoke to several students who came forward to present their mental-health related issues and challenges on campus.

“There are all sorts of ways that institutions create obstacles,” Walker said.

Historically, Walker believes one of the barriers students met was the La Salle clinic on Stuart Street. 

“The ‘walk of shame’ that students had to face, where they were ‘sent upstairs’ for mental-health related issues was both problematic and troublesome,” he said.

According to Walker, another part of the problem is the lack of training given to faculty and staff members in addressing problems commonly faced by their students. “We know how to deal with an ACL injury, but not depression, eating disorders, et cetera. We need to give them the right tools to help.” 

One of the project’s Walker had a major influence on is currently being built. The new Innovation and Wellness Center, due for completion in April 2018, was an investment that the Commission’s recommendations played a recognizable role in influencing. Section 3.7 of the Student Mental Health and Wellness report recommended safe, inclusive and welcoming spaces for students across campus. 

Even five years after serving on the Commission, Walker still has major concerns about breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

“When we break a leg we don’t hesitate to ask for help, but when we can’t sleep or have dark thoughts, we’re afraid… Don’t be afraid to ask people if they’re okay and never assume you can’t help. [Mental illness] isn’t like fixing a flat tire. These are issues that have been with humankind forever and that we really shouldn’t be ashamed of,” Walker said.

“In the 60s and 70s there was this stigma around cancer, and later HIV. I would like to see a day when we can consult someone about a mental illness as easily as if we were talking about a heart attack.”    

After winning such a prestigious award, Walker said he will “carry on as usual.” Although he is unsure of when he will move on from Queen’s, he has already planned the next step in his life.

“I’m looking forward to retiring sometime soon and enjoying time with my wife and 10 grandchildren.”

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