Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Mental health advocacy: StFX student Jenny Li contributes on national stage 

April 11th, 2022
StFX student Jenny Li

Jenny Li, a fourth year honours sociology student from Calgary, AB, has long been an active leader in student mental health on the StFX campus. Now, Li has taken their passion for mental health advocacy to the national stage. 

Li, who is extensively involved with Jack.org, a non-profit organization of young people working to revolutionize mental health in Canada, helped facilitate the organization’s national mental health summit, Next 10, a hybrid conference held in-person in Toronto and online in March. 

Li, the Network Representative (NR) for Jack.org, representing the province of Nova Scotia, and Chapter Lead for Jack.org Antigonish, was one of three speakers at the "Building an Inclusive Summit" workshop, and co-facilitated a collaboration session on mental health stigma.

“I jumped into local mental health advocacy and I never looked back,” says Li on becoming involved in Jack.org in 2018 when they joined Jack.org StFX, which has since transitioned from a campus to community-based chapter. 

“Working with Jack.org doesn’t feel like completing tasks. It's about making a difference, leaving an impact on my community, and building myself up. I feel more energized after spending time with the Network, and I finally found a place where I can be my true self.”

Li says all NRs are expected to attend and facilitate the annual national summit. 

“When I was accepted to represent Nova Scotia, I was absolutely over the moon. I learned of my acceptance over the phone, and I made the staff member repeat herself -- I wanted to be sure I heard her right! I walked on air for the next two weeks. I'd wanted to represent a national mental health movement for most of my life, and suddenly my dream was coming true!”

The summit’s theme, Next 10, refers to Jack.org’s commitment towards collective action in whatever capacity people can act, they say. “We can serve our community in the next 10 days, 10 weeks, 10 months, 10 years, and so on. We can commit to something super simple, like making a post on social media about local mental health resources, something super big, like setting up a roundtable with a political leader, or anything in between. We emphasize inclusivity, self-care, and responsible advocacy.” 

Li, who is candid about their own struggles with mental health, has been extensively involved during their time at StFX.

They had their honours research externally funded, as the recipient of a Scotia Scholars award, augmented by StFX and spent last summer completing a Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) informed comprehensive literature review for their thesis, ‘Integrated Youth Mental Health Services: A Sociological Examination of Best Practices in a Canadian Context.’

For their thesis, Li conducted interviews with an integrated youth services administrator and three young service users, one of whom they say later had their data excluded. “I have since presented my findings at conferences including the Transdisciplinary Research for the Improvement of Youth Mental Public Health (TRIUMPH)'s Early Career Researcher forum. I am looking forward to presenting at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Sociological Association (session: Re-Conceptualizing Risk), StFX's Student Research Day, and more.” 

Li has been accepted for graduate school and in September will start a Master of Arts in sociology at Dalhousie University where they will examine youth mental health service accessibility within the province, with a focus on equity-deserving experiences. 

“My work brings me ever closer to my goal – to complete a PhD in mental health service provision and start my career as a Canadian mental health charity administrator,” says Li. 

Li says their time at StFX has been a wild ride. They arrived anxious and homesick, experienced a mental health crisis, and experienced much uncertainty around COVID-19. Their time at StFX was also one of personal growth. 

Li says their troubles started when they were five years old and their world changed when their parents immigrated from Shijiazhuang, China. Their school years were tough, and things at home were also difficult. Life slowly started to look up as they entered high school, and Li says they still weren’t mentally healthy, until they moved to Antigonish. At StFX, they connected with a counsellor during their first week on campus who connected them to supports, and also the Jack.org network. 

“My time at X was also marked by my connections with my professors. I took advantage of StFX's small class sizes, expert instructors, and mentoring opportunities. I connected with Dr. Norine Verberg, the chair of my department, and Dr. Katie Aubrecht, my thesis supervisor. They helped me chase my interests, organize my thesis, and make connections in my field. I was able to customize my degree in ways not possible at many other universities. The academic rigour of my program leaves me very well-prepared for my Master of Arts in sociology next fall.”

Li says their Jack.org local chapter hosts numerous projects. “We facilitated a resources booth for Bell Let’s Talk, hosted a regional Jack Summit, and completed Bite the Stigma. Once COVID-19 hit, my chapter transitioned to online advocacy. We facilitated several social media campaigns, covering topics from managing exam anxiety to accessing supports on campus. 

“I am most proud of my role in shaping mental health policy at X. My chapter teamed up with the Students' Union to lobby the university administration, arguing for the adoption of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Post-Secondary Standard. I am a member of the StFX's Student Mental Health and Well-Being Working Group. This year, we completed an environmental scan of student mental health, hosted focus groups and town halls, and made space for historically marginalized voices. My role was to inform the lead researcher and ensure we proceeded in an inclusive, equitable manner.”

This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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