Jack.org was founded by Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington in 2010 after they lost their son Jack to suicide. This tragedy shocked Jack’s family and peers who had no idea he was struggling. Jack either didn’t know how to reach out for help, or he was too afraid to ask. Those around him weren’t educated enough about mental health to recognize any signs of distress.
Sadly, Jack’s story isn’t unique. Suicide is the leading health-related cause of death for young people, but young people are among the least likely to access mental health treatment. And for 70% of people living with mental illness, symptoms began before they turned 25. Eric and Sandra started Jack.org to put young people at the forefront of the mental health conversation and ensure that young people get the help they need.
Jack.org trains and empowers a national network of young leaders who are revolutionizing mental health. Through Jack Talks, Jack Chapters, Jack Summits, and Be There, youth work to identify and dismantle barriers to positive mental health in their communities.
Public health and social change research tell us that peer-to-peer education and solutions developed by community members are more effective than alternatives. To create lasting change in youth mental health, youth voices must be brought to the table in meaningful and constructive ways. Our youth leaders undergo eight-week training programs to learn about mental health and develop their advocacy skills. Given adequate training and an appropriate platform for action, young people have the capacity to change the culture around mental health.
Jack.org is working towards a Canada where all young people understand how to support their own mental health and look out for each other, and where all those who need support get the help they deserve. With a national network of 3,000 young leaders, we’re only just getting started.
In our Jack Talks program, we train youth speakers to use the power of personal stories to engage, educate, and equip other young people to take care of themselves and their peers. Jack Talks provide relevant mental health education, normalize difficult conversations, and encourage help-seeking. And they’re making a difference—this year, after viewing a Virtual Jack Talk, 71% of audience members reported that they feel better able to support a friend with their mental health, and 73% say they know where to get help for their mental health if they need it.
Over the last school year, we trained 104 Talks speakers who delivered 749 Virtual Jack Talks to over 26,000 young people across Canada. Four Jack Talks speakers from Calgary delivered 34 Jack Talks to over 800 of their peers in the region.
Our community-based Jack Chapters are trained and supported youth-led groups working year-round to identify and dismantle barriers to positive mental health in their communities. With Jack.org mentorship, youth Jack Chapter leaders organize initiatives to bring their peers into conversations about mental health, promote awareness, reduce stigma, encourage help-seeking, and advocate for safer, more supportive communities.
We now have 195 Jack Chapters across every province and territory in the country. Over the last school year, Jack Chapter leaders organized 2,468 initiatives that sparked over 79,000 meaningful engagements.
In feedback surveys, 92% of Jack Chapter leaders report they feel comfortable having conversations about mental health with their peers, and 84% reported feeling confident that they can take action to address mental health barriers in their community.
Young leaders in the Jack.org network are building a movement to revolutionize mental health across Canada, and the Jack Summit program is the bedrock of their collaboration.
Last year, our annual National Jack Summit in Toronto brought together 150 young people virtually to exchange knowledge, improve their mental health advocacy skills, and build solidarity around a common goal. We also supported young people in the Northern Territories, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and francophone youth in Montreal with four additional multi-day Jack Summits focused on the mental health challenges unique to these regional and cultural contexts.
In May 2019, Jack.org launched a new educational resource at BeThere.org. Be There is a cutting-edge online resource that teaches people how to better support their peers and loved ones who are struggling with their mental health. Written content, video tutorials, and testimonials address youth-identified gaps in mental health knowledge in ways that are relevant, engaging, and interactive. Since its launch, Be There has seen over 747,149 unique visitors.
We’re working to create a Calgary where all young people understand how to support their own mental health and look out for each other, and where all those who need support get the help they deserve.
To help fuel the youth mental health movement, please consider donating to our organization, booking a Jack Talk in your workplace, and/or using and sharing our digital mental health resource Be There.