STS alumni Myles Chase '15 and Scott Wilson '15 want to start a conversation. The two university students have begun a non-profit organization, Open Arms, as a way to educate high school and post-secondary students on the importance of mental health and supporting friends through difficult times.
"We want to have conversations about the issues we see in high school and university. Issues get worse when students feel isolated, which can come from the difficult transition to university. People start to isolate themselves and may not have friends they are comfortable with to have those conversations," said Scott. We want to educate people on how to have those conversations. Our hope is that students will ask,'How are you?' and mean it," he continued.
Myles and Scott met while attending STS. They were both involved in the many different programs at STS and credit the close-knit community of the school as the catalyst of their friendship.
"The best part about STS is that its a diverse community. There are so many different people and different experiences. We took learning from other people and made it about how we can better ourselves," said Scott.
The key to Open Arms is something called "Sign the Pledge." Students are encouraged to sign their names to a public pledge as a signal to their peers that they are open for conversations and, if they need, to reach out to them for help. After signing, students receive and email from Open Arms that outlines how to start a conversation with your friends and peers about mental health.
"When you talk to your friend and have heart to hearts, you remember those for years. They mean a lot more," said Myles.
This year, STS took part in its first Open Arms week by sharing the five steps to a conversation over five days. In fact, the organizing committee was led by Myles and Scott's siblings, Alex Chase '18 and Julia Wilson '18, along with 14 other students. The school hosted a number of speakers, students were able to sign their own pledge, and took part in a variety of activities - including a balloon stomp to 'stomp out the stigma.'
"STS has so many supports in place and people you can talk to. It's a great environment for that - it's very inclusive"
"When someone has difficulties and they go to a friend, it can cause a chain reaction. A friend is usually the first person you go to," he continued.
Both alumni are in their third year of university. Myles is attending Queen's University studying business, and is currently on a semester-long exchange to Sweden. Scott is a student at Western Universty majoring in finance. It was their shared experience and observations in university that spurred them to begin Open Arms in 2017.
"In high school, people would share the difficult things they were going through. It's hard to hear those stories and know what to say. We want every student at STS and beyond to know how to have these hard conversations, because a conversation can save a life." said Myles.
To learn more about Open Arms, visit their website at www.open-arms.ca