By: Tony Davis
Jeremie Saunders was ten years old when the seriousness of his illness struck him.
Being a child skilled at video games like Mortal Kombat he knew exactly what the word fatal meant.
He came across a pamphlet on Cystic Fibrosis, an illness he knew he had, but thought of it up until this point as a normal everyday pain in the ass, he said.
“I was blissfully unaware that Cystic Fibrosis was a fatal disease.”
Looking down at the pamphlet, examining it, he came across a sentence that would change his life.
“The average life expectancy of someone living with Cystic Fibrosis is 30 years of age.”
Everything he thought he knew was ripped out from underneath him, he said.
Now, at 31 Saunders is an accomplished speaker, actor and podcast host. He kicked off this year’s UPEI Mental Health Week with a presentation on Monday at the W.A. Murphy Student Centre. Students filed in for the noon presentation from the popular podcast host.
“I just found that finding humour within the experience of an illness sort of took away the power that the illness had over me,” Saunders says. (Tony Davis)
Saunders hosts Sickboy, a podcast with his two friends where they have discussions with people who have various illnesses, both physical and mental. The three friends use humour to break the ice around sickness.
“I just found that finding humour within the experience of an illness sort of took away the power that the illness had over me.”
It was a personal experience for himself, and maybe not everyone is ready to find humour in their aliment if they have something like terminal cancer, Saunders said.
“Humour has been such an effective tool for me in terms of a therapy. To try and offer that to other people, we’ve noticed especially with the podcast, it can be extraordinarily effective.”
Right now, his life goal is to insert a little bit of lightness into something very heavy with the hopes someone can benefit from it, like he did. It is important to start a discussion by hosting events like Mental Health Week at UPEI, Saunders said.
“University is a high stress environment for a lot of people, especially mentally, for a lot of people it is the first time they are moving away from home, which is a huge stressor in people’s lives. So, to have an event like this at a university, I think it is vitally important. Whether or not people take part in it or not, but just to have it so if there is someone in need that resource is there.”
University is a high stress environment, which is why the week was moved from March to January to match up with other mental health advocacy programs such as Bell Lets Talk Day, a viral campaign supporting the discussion of mental health.
Jack.org is one of the organizations keeping mental health at the forefront of discussion, said Vice President Student Life Sarah MacEachern with the UPEI Student Union. Jack.org is a Canadian non-profit organization focused on youth mental health and suicide prevention.
“Get involved with Jack.org. Jack.org isn’t a week long event, it’s a club and a group that does work like this all year round.”
In general, it can be a tough month for anyone struggling with mental health.
“January is known as one of the months that is harder for students,” MacEachern said. MacEachern highlighted a lot of resources for mental health like the Aspiria program, a 24/7 hotline for individuals struggling with mental health. MacEachern thinks student affairs is also a great place for students to get help.
“Student Affairs, the counsellors over there whether it’s a school related issue, a family related issue, anything, they are super helpful and always willing to take on new students.
Some people find it scary because they think they are going for this therapy session, but really it is just someone to talk to.”
MacEachern was happy to see a good turnout for Saunders’ presentation, she said.
“When you look at what Jeremie talked about and the attendance that was there, having someone like that for the kick off really promotes the week in a good way. It looks both professional and well put together. It kind of motivates people to go to more events, or join more things, or be more actively involved.”
Saunders thinks it isn’t a big deal to focus on it for one week out of the year he said. If you are struggling with any type of mental or physical illness, he has some advice.
“If you’re going through something that is hard and you are sick, own that, let that be a part of you. Let it shape you, let it form you, let it inform the decisions that you make on a day to day basis. There is a mad power in that, I’d say just own it.”
To see the remaining events taking place at UPEI for Mental Health Week, click here.