Inuvik woman heading to Toronto mental health conference, hopes to help others

Davonna Kasook, of Inuvik, is heading to a youth mental health summit in Toronto in March. She hopes to bring back skills and resources she can use to help others.

Davonna Kasook, 21, will be attending the 5th annual Jack Summit in March

'If I have the power to change my own life then I must have something in there to help other people,' says Davonna Kasook (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Davonna Kasook was going through her emails at the beginning of the year when one caught her eye.

It was about Jack Summit, a three-day program for youth leaders, aged 18 to 24, who want help end stigma around mental health and bring change to their communities.

"I went through my own issues with mental health and had quite the battle," says the 21-year-old student at Inuvik's Aurora College campus.

"I thought if I have the power to change my own life then I must have something in there to help other people."

Kasook submitted her application and found out about a month later that she was one of 200 youth from across Canada selected to attend the summit in Toronto.

'Battle with myself'

Kasook, who wants to become a teacher, knows how hard it is to fight mental illness.

"I think this started when I first started getting bullied in elementary school. I think the first time that I ever thought about suicide, I must have been in Grade 6. So it was a constant battle with myself for many years."

Kasook said she also experienced anxiety attacks and depression, and as she got older she turned to alcohol and drugs to cope.

It wasn't until one night when she was brought to the hospital after her ex-boyfriend called the police out of fear that she would commit suicide, that she became aware of the resources she could access.

"Right then and there I knew there was professional help like counseling. But I wasn't ready to talk to anybody and I didn't feel comfortable talking to anybody, so I didn't reach out to any of the support there for me."

That experience, however, made Kasook realize that she had to focus on herself.

"I just started building myself up on my own by removing toxic people from my life… Changing my life basically."

Continuing the conversation

At the summit in Toronto, Kasook is hoping to learn skills that allow her to help others with similar struggles to the ones she faced.

Jack Summit is part of, a national charity focused on youth mental health. It was started around seven years ago by Eric Windeler, in memory of his son Jack who committed suicide in his first year of university.

"Young people like my son Jack, who are perhaps struggling for the first time aren't sure what to do and sometimes they are embarrassed or ashamed, or unable to talk about it," says Windeler.

The goal of the summit is to help continue the conversation on the stigma of mental illness while connecting youth from all over Canada with resources to help better attend to others struggling in their communities.

Kasook is currently fundraising for her trip, and is close to meeting her goal.

"I want to be the change that I want to see in this town. Nobody's doing it, so I'm going to step and start working on it," she says.