Patrick Hickey admits it’s difficult to fathom the idea of someone thanking you for saving a life.
“With mental health, you cannot measure your results. It’s hard to quantify people’s experiences. But every now and then, someone will say to you that you saved someone’s life – they tell you ‘Thank you,’” he explained. “You can’t process that.”
Hickey, an Ivey Business student, has worked for the last five years with child and youth mental health, as well as adult mental health. His most recent ‘thank you’ for his work will come when he receives the Young Humanitarian Award for Newfoundland and Labrador at the Canadian Red Cross Power of Humanity Awards Dinner this November.
“There is still so much to do. We’ve built the foundation – and it’s a huge foundation and took a long time to build. But now is when the hard work and important work starts,” he said. “It’s about starting a conversation, investing in this and believing in each other. We can’t be satisfied with where we’re at. We’ve come a long way – we have a long way to go.”
A few years ago, at Holy Heart of Mary High School in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Hickey began making contributions provincially and nationally to address youth mental health.
First organizing schoolwide event on mental wellness, he later founded the Metro Youth Mental Health Committee, a student group with representatives from all 13 high schools in the St. John’s area. In Grade 12, he organized a two-day youth mental-wellness conference attended by more than 600 students from 30 schools.
Hickey became intrigued by mental health issues among youth in Canada’s North, joining the youth-led organization North in Focus and helping to organize workshops for Inuit youth to discuss topics including substance abuse and suicide, identify needs and gaps, and how to better access resources to address their specific mental-health needs.
He has served on advisory committees for Kids Help Phone and Movember Foundation, and currently serves on the Kids Help Phone National Youth Council as well as the Minister of Health and Community Services Advisory Committee on Mental Health and Addictions.
“It is the people around me, friends and family, particularly family, who spark that awakening and compassion we all have inside of us, but is not always front of mind,” Hickey explained. “It can be uncomfortable to talk about, but for me, it was really serendipitous. When I had this thought that I need to do something, my entire province was having the same conversation. Things came together through municipal and provincial governments, NGOs and community leaders. People wanted something to happen; we took that first step, hit the ground running and haven’t looked back since.”
In 2015, Hickey was named Youth of the Year by the City of St. John’s and also honoured provincially as Youth Volunteer of the Year.
“I find it ironic that a young person is honoured for missing almost all of Grade 12,” laughed Hickey, recalling his hectic high school days. “One thing leads to two more and each one of those has two more and, suddenly, you don’t go to school anymore. I almost didn’t graduate – it was very close in the end.”
Others, however, saw the vast potential in the ‘absent” Grade 12 student.
The Loran Scholars Foundation recognized Hickey with a $100,000 four-year undergraduate award based on his character, service and promise of leadership. That award included an internship as an assistant policy analyst with the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
While mental wellness is an unequivocally huge task to undertake, Hickey said the first step is simply being an everyday mental-health champion.
“It’s really just about being compassionate to others. You’ll never be able to solve the crisis around mental-health issues, but all of it – a national mental-health strategy, a campus-wide mental-health campaign, a conversation you have with a friend – is just to be compassionate,” he said. “If you bring yourself to the highest level of integrity and generosity, and be as compassionate as you know how, we can get pretty far. Big campaigns are fantastic and we do need them, but it’s really the small things that add up.”
His third year at Western – and first at Ivey – Hickey said Western has made progress in addressing issues around mental health since his first year on campus.
“I’ve seen a lot of good things; I’ve seen some things where the heart is in the right place; I’ve seen some bad things,” he said. “But it’s a starting point – and a very good starting point. You’re not going to finish the path you’re on; there will always be more work.”
And for Hickey, the work never ends.
“You put yourself out there to become a steward. We need to take care of each other. What if we’re not meant to take care of ourselves, but what if we’re meant to care for each other,” he said. “People think I’m passionate about mental health, but I’ve never wanted to be a psychologist or a doctor. That’s not my interest. The whole idea of wanting to care for each other – that should be everyone’s responsibility and interest. It’s what everybody owes each other.”