March 2, 2018

Breakfast event provides a space for students to have a frank discussion about mental health

Audience inspired by Frank O’Dea's strength to overcome something that seemed impossible

When we think about bravery, we don’t usually consider the courage necessary to make difficult changes in our lives. But it requires a lot of mental strength and self-awareness to acknowledge your own imperfections and make positive transitions.

For Frank O’Dea, one call to an alcohol support group was the first step in accepting his limitations and marked the beginning of his journey from homelessness and addiction towards success as a Canadian entrepreneur, author and philanthropist.

Hosted through a partnership between the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership and the Campus Mental Health Strategy, on Feb. 15 more than 20 entrepreneurship and leadership students watched successful Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank O’Dea expose his flaws and bear it all over breakfast.

During the session, O’Dea shared his deeply personal story of resilience to overcome his struggle with mental health, and his journey through homelessness and addiction. O’Dea shared the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong support system, being an active listener and finding the courage to recognize when you need help.

Events that encourage students to have open discussions about mental health also support the Campus Mental Health Strategy’s mission to create a community of caring. “We know that students have a lot on their plate and they often struggle with anxiety and stress,” Kevan Coyle, program adviser in the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, says.

“Working with student leaders and entrepreneurs who are taking on new responsibilities has shown us how challenging it is for students to extend their capacity, balance their commitments, and thrive while doing so. The breakfast event was so transformational — it provided a space for students to have a frank discussion about mental health and to collectively reflect on how to build wellness into their lives.”

Session encourages optimistic outlook for UCalgary students

“Many students see Frank as a role model in the business world, so opportunities to get up close and personal are impactful. Hearing Frank’s story and seeing him be very open about his struggles helps reduce the stigma of talking about mental health,” explains Amit Manocha, UCalgary peer supporter, undergraduate student, and event moderator.

Manocha, who began by sharing his own difficulties with anxiety, found the event both positive and reassuring. “For students who experience many of the mental health challenges that Frank discussed, it was an inspirational moment. He had the strength to overcome something that seemed impossible — that’s powerful for students and reminds us that we’re capable of doing it too.”

O’Dea’s talk also emphasized the significance of mental health resources on campus. “Frank highlighted the importance of active listening — you can’t fix someone, you can only listen and provide the tools needed to overcome adversity. That’s exactly what we strive to do in peer support,” Manocha says. “Frank’s perspective reaffirmed the importance of what the peer support program does and furthered the need for informal mental health resources on campus.”

Attendee feedback further confirmed the valuable takeaways students got out of the session. “I appreciated the safe space environment that was established and upheld throughout the discussion. Frank’s story was enlightening and his advice on what it takes to be successful will be remembered,” says Sheryl Tan, Haskayne student and member of social entrepreneurship club Enactus Calgary.

“Amit’s story and his journey to wellness was my biggest takeaway from the event. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental health and not enough accessible support systems to manage it. The session inspired me to create more positive impacts in support of mental health awareness.”

For informal peer support, visit the Campus Community Hub in Yamnuska Hall from Monday to Friday.

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. If you think you need help, please visit resources here. If you think someone you know needs help, find more information here