Toronto Student to Talk Mental Health with Will and Kate

By Peter Goffin

Two years ago, Shayan Yazdanpanah was backing away from social interaction and neglecting his friends. He felt down but didn’t understand why. But a stronger awareness of his own mental health has helped Yazdanpanah change his life.

On Saturday, the 20­year­old Ryerson University student will spend an afternoon with Prince William and Kate on a boat in the Victoria, B.C., harbour talking about young people’s mental health and well­being.

“Ultimately, it’s cool to meet the royal couple, but it’s an amazing opportunity to get this international platform to spread our message,” he said. William, Kate and Prince Harry recently began a campaign called Heads Together, working with eight UK charities to fight the stigma surrounding mental health.

“I want to tell them how happy we are that they are taking on this mission,” Yazdanpanah said. He is part of a delegation from the youth mental health charity set to meet Will and Kate on Saturday.

The royal couple will meet with members of a B.C. mental health resource centre before setting sail with Yazdanpanah and 18 of his colleagues on a tall ship from a youth sailing program.

Two years ago, as he finished high school and started university, Yazdanpanah began to feel anxiety creeping up on him. In the first year of an aerospace engineering degree at Ryerson, Yazdanpanah would leave his family’s Richmond Hill home at 6 or 7 a.m. to begin the long, lonely commute downtown. He was no longer surrounded each day by the friends he had in high school.

Bit by bit, Yazdanpanah noticed his demeanor changing. He felt “under par” for long periods of time. “It started hindering a lot of aspects of my life,” he said. “I was pulling back from friendships, not being as interactive as I normally am.”

Looking to make a change, Yazdanpanah began experimenting with coping mechanisms such as meditation and other, simpler, activities. “Just hanging out with a friend or talking to someone you trust, or even just going for walk,” he said.

About a year and a half ago, he began working with Founded in 2013 by the parents of Jack Windeler, a Queen’s University student who committed suicide in 2010, works to build awareness about mental health by having students speak to other young people at school events and conferences.

Now, in addition to his studies at Ryerson, Yazdanpanah regularly speaks to high school and university students about the value of mental health care. “When you’re transitioning from high school to university, you’re missing some of your friends, the comfort you had at home. You’re getting ready to plan the rest of your life,” Yazdanpanah said.

Those stresses, plus the experience of being alone for the first time, can make the start of college or university particularly difficult, he added. But anyone can reach out for help. “You don’t have to have a (diagnosed) mental illness to meditate or to see a counsellor or talk to a friend about how you’re doing,” Yazdanpanah said.


Retrieved from The Toronto Star, written by Peter Goffin. Published 9/28/2016.

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