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Students share tales of mental health journeys and help raise nearly $30,000 for Shaughn O’Brien Mental Health Fund

The force was with the CUE Community on May the 4th as the university held its 7th annual President’s Fundraising Breakfast for Mental Health, raising nearly $30,000 for mental health initiatives on campus.

The money raised will go towards microgrants this fall to help CUE implement a multi-pronged approach to preventative mental health. The goal is to empower the CUE community to invest in themselves in a way that gets them thinking about how they can co-create positive mental health at our university, and can include small scale research projects, initiatives, and events to increase engagement and awareness building.

The theme of this year’s event, From Comfort to Growth, was one that master of ceremonies Dr. Carmen Arth, VP of Campus life, could relate to.

“I will never forget my first day as a professor at Concordia. I had rehearsed my lecture, but as the students filed into the classroom, I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest,” she said.

Still, she persisted and soon found lecturing became easier to do. “As a psychology professor, I have advised students to get out of their comfort zones to embrace a growth mindset. And I know from first hand experience, growth often happens in the margins of life – and when we are able to push those edges on the margins.”

Fourth year Applied Emphasis Psychology student Kaylee Reed shared a personal story about how she supported a suicidal friend after her friend was sexually assaulted off-campus. “I encouraged them to seek help here at Concordia and they eventually booked in.”

Kaylee Reed

Concordia’s counselling services referred her friend to a professional who specializes in helping sexual assault survivors. “This drastically helped my friend and had it not been for the support here at Concordia,I do not think my friend would still be here today.”

Selina Verkland, a second year student in the Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology program, spoke about the power of working past discomfort towards growth. She told a story about an inmate she was working with who was reluctant to take part in an exercise until a second inmate joined him. During an uncomfortable part of the exercise, the first inmate walked out of the session.

Selina Verkland

“I expected the second inmate to leave too, but he stayed sitting at that table, waiting,” she said. The second inmate stayed put, and to her surprise, the first inmate eventually came back when he saw his fellow inmate had waited for him.

“There is power in staying in the room,” Selina said.

Dr. Thea Comeau, Assistant Professor of Psychology, led over 100 breakfast participants in a values exercise, having guests rank what values into three categories: very important, important, and non-important. She challenged the guests to consider what actions they can take in order to live out their very important and important values today.

The last student speaker was Duncan Calef, who is graduating this semester from his four-year Bachelors of Science degree with a major in biology. He spoke about the importance of having meaningful relationships in your life to support good mental health. “It takes time and practice to learn how to do relationships well. But they are every bit worth that time.”

He encourages students to invest effort into faculty-student friendships, too. “For any students in the room, build a relationship with your professors. Concordia’s small campus, where we can actually talk to the people who teach us, is such a blessing.”

Finally, CUE president and vice-chancellor Dr. Tim Loreman ended the breakfast with a call for donations. He thanked corporate sponsors Hub International, George & Bell Consulting and Dana Hospitality for their support and then thanked Shelagh O’Brien, the mother of Shaughn O’Brien, for whom the mental health fund is named. She agreed to match the first $10,000 raised, which essentially doubles what donors would give.

“I don’t know of any opportunities where you can instantly double the impact of your investment,” Dr. Loreman said, urging the crowd to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to take advantage of this offer.

Donors responded in a big way, with a total of nearly $30,000 raised towards the Shaughn O’Brien Mental Health Fund, adding to the $170,000 that was fundraised previously.