Interview with Grace Elander

Grace is a grade 10 student at Western Canada High School. She is involved in competitive climbing and enjoys reading and listening to music. She is speaking up about mental health because of personal experience with it, and to make a change in her community.

Why is mental health awareness important to you?

Mental health is such a stigmatized topic, and it is part of everyone’s lives. Many people suffer and aren’t able to talk about it, or don’t get the help that they need. Often I think that people are forced into really uncomfortable situations; for example, someone with social anxiety may feel pressured by their friend group to attend parties, even though they may feel very uncomfortable in a social situation like that. I think that there are a lot of situations where people aren’t able to tell the people that they are the closest to, like friends, how they are doing in fear of how they will be perceived.

What impact do you think social media can have on mental health?

Everyone knows the negative effects of social media. People can get obsessive about it and be in constant need of validation from others online, among other issues, but I generally see it as a positive thing. Being online often doesn’t involve too much brain power, which can make it a great distraction during a stressful time. Personally, I have separate social media accounts where I only follow things that make me happy, so if I ever feel really stressed out, I can go look at as many sunset photos as I want to help me feel better. Social media also brings fast ways for people to get help. I often find it easier to talk to people online when I need help, and online, people are always accessible, where it’s hard to find someone to talk to in person in the middle of the night.

How did you find the transition from junior high school to high school?

Overall, school is a lot more stressful now. A lot of things happened in the transition, and a lot of friendships changed. The whole situation was a bit anxiety-inducing. However, it was really nice to be in a new environment where you were given a fresh start with a bunch of new people. I find it easier to be who I want to be now.

How much awareness does your school bring towards mental health?

We have probably one accessible councillor in our whole school, and everyone is stressed out a lot. I would say our school talks a lot about mental health, and how they always put our health first. This doesn’t exactly get reflected when we have all of our finals back to back and our school doesn’t have enough resources to help everyone with their studies. I think that the school has good intentions but it’s not quite working the way it could be yet.

How does being on a sports team affect your mental health?

I am on a climbing team that includes nine people, including my coach. We are a really close-knit group and all get along really well, making it a great environment to talk about anything that we need to. It’s harder to be as open in school with a high focus on our work. Everyone at climbing is a really good listener, and the different ages, backgrounds, and experiences allow us to learn more about each other and our community. Personally, my coach has had similar life experiences to me, which gives me a person who can understand things that I’m going through more than others. It is a great community where I can express myself easily, and I think this is something that is a lot easier to accomplish in a sports community like mine.

How does being physically active impact your mental health?

Being physically active is great for my mental health. I feel the happiest when I’ve worked out for hours and I am about to pass out from exhaustion and hunger. Of course, it’s not nearly as fun when it’s being forced on you, but especially if you want to do it, it is really great.

What do you think is an effective way to give advice to someone that is struggling?

When someone is really struggling through something, telling them that they are strong may be a bit superficial. However, showing them that you care and that you hope they make it can mean a lot more. Putting the work into really showing someone that you can help goes a long way, and I think it is very important to ask a person who is struggling what they want, whether that be a hug, to be left alone, or for you to assist them in getting more help.