Summit Series 1: Mental Health in our City

Volunteer-created conference expands to include a virtual series

Guest post by Olivia McFadzen

Like many things in 2020, United Way Winnipeg’s annual GenNext Summit faced major disruption because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While people could not gather together in person for the event, more than 600 people registered and a record number of attendees showed up online for the first-ever United Way virtual Summit Series.

Mental health isn’t the easiest topic to speak about. In fact, some people find it downright uncomfortable. That’s why now, more than ever, it’s important to have open conversations to de-stigmatize the subject. Acknowledging that discomfort, Meaghen Johnston from Intentional Futures Counselling answered some tough questions on people’s minds.

Meaghen made sure to emphasize mental health is not something people can just choose to overcome. She noted that every individual facing a mental health challenge has their own battle to fight, despite not always having the motivation to do so.

Summit Series

Thankfully, there are resources available in our city. Serge and Kate from Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) Winnipeg shared some street-level supports they have for youth in our community, ranging from basic needs, like food and clothing, to long-term preventative supports like employment assistance and mental health and wellness programs. For a young person experiencing a mental health crisis, just knowing there are organizations like RaY out there could make all the difference.

Summit Series

From “hell to well.”

Next, attendees were treated to a chill-inducing first-hand account of one woman’s journey from ‘hell to well.’ Where to begin with Lisa Shaw’s story? When you look at Lisa, you wouldn’t be able to see the scars that remain from her personal journey. Lisa is a survivor. She is a mental health warrior, and her story is one that without a doubt inspires all who are fortunate enough to hear it. Lisa’s story is one of resilience and dedication – confronting her mental health diagnosis head-on with support from her family, along with resources available within our community. It was an absolute honour to listen to Lisa’s story and hear the passion, pain, and healing in her voice. People like Lisa share their stories to ensure others who may feel alone know they are not, and that help is out there.

This year has been a tough one. I know the uncertainty that comes with an unprecedented global pandemic has caused a rise in mental health challenges among the population. Mental health does not discriminate against race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status.

If I took anything away from this episode, it is the more compassion and kindness we can show each other, the better off our community is. I also learned about some of the many amazing resources we are lucky enough to have right here in Winnipeg, including the 35 United Way agencies that provide counselling and wellness services.