TRU student talks mental health with visiting royals

Encounter with Duke and Duchess part of Jack.org discussion around mental health

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with students from Jack.org, set sail from Victoria. Photo by Eric Windeler

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with students from Jack.org, set sail from Victoria. (Photo courtesy Eric Windeler)

The tall ship Pacific Grace set sail from Victoria with Thompson Rivers University student Nicole Phillips and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge aboard on Oct. 1. Phillips was one of 19 student representatives from Jack.org chosen to speak with the royals about mental health.

William and Kate met with the mental health advocacy group to share ideas with some of Canada’s youth, and to then bring new concepts back to the UK. Jack.org’s mission aligns with that of the Royals’ new Heads Together campaign. Both campaigns aim to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

Phillips, along with each of the 19 students, got time alone with William and Kate.

“They were super personal, they were so connected with everyone,” Phillips said.

The Royals asked Phillips about TRU specifically, and discussed how open our students are to conversations about mental health.

Mental health is an issue close to Phillips’ heart. She struggled with depression and anxiety during high school and felt that she couldn’t open up to anyone about it.

“I really felt like I suffered in silence. I was so afraid. I didn’t really know who to talk to,” she said.

Phillips found Jack.org through friends who attended a Jack Summit, where 250 students from across Canada met to discuss mental health. Phillips applied to attend the following summit and has been involved with the organization ever since.

Founded in memory of Jack, a Queen’s University student who committed suicide after struggling with mental illness, Jack.org is a nationwide network of students. Their goal is to transform discussions about mental health from taboo topic to commonplace.

“One in five people develop a [mental] illness, such as depression…but it’s also important to remember that five in five of us can get really sad, and really anxious, and really stressed out,” Phillips said.

Phillips is the founder and president of TRU’s Jack.org chapter. Created last year, it is just getting off the ground. So far, they have attended events like the Back-to-School BBQ and started up conversations with passing students about mental health.

“We’re going to be doing a lot more on campus this year, so watch out for us,” Phillips said.

So far, students have responded positively. Phillips says talking about mental health is a new concept for some international students in particular.

“They say, ‘Wow, you can talk about this in Canada?’” she said.

Although Canada has come far, she wants us to remember that we still have a long way to go.

Her royal encounter has motivated her to work even harder to end the stigma against discussing mental health. As Phillips put it, “[this trip] was definitely the coolest thing that I’ve ever got to experience.”