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Guelph youth behind mental health 'Wellness 4 All' initiative

Alexandra Elmslie created the resource while still a student at John F. Ross high school

A mental health resource developed by a former high school student is continuing to help students in the Upper Grand District School Board and beyond.

Wellness 4 All is an online database providing mental health resources for students with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD) with IDD concepts and vocabulary. Starting off in three classrooms at John F. Ross high school, the program is now used by over 200 students in the UGDSB and by the Waterloo District School Board.

The person behind the initiative is Alexandra Elmslie, a John F. Ross alumni. She estimates she put between 75 to 100 hours into designing the resource, but said it doesn't feel like it took that long. 

"It was literally my passion project," said Elmslie about the Wellness 4 All Initiative. 

Late in Grade 11, Elmslie came up with the idea for Wellness 4 All as a response to the mental health crisis caused by COVID-19. At the time, she said the UGDSB had provided mental health resources for students, but discovered these resources weren't available or accessible for those with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD).

As someone diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), Elmslie said the discovery saddened her.

"Because it's such a difficult time for everyone and mental health has become such an important issue, prevalent issue, and for these students not to have those same kinds of supports was pretty saddening," said Elmslie. "That's where my original spark came from for Wellness 4 All because I saw that inequity and I wanted to do something about it."

Elmslie began researching, compiling  and creating online mental health resources focused on IDD. Initially, Elmslie led in-person sessions and then created a website. She explains the website is 'multifaceted' as it provides information to raise awareness of mental health, and vocabulary and visualization tools to help students to identify their feelings.

Elmslie added some of her personal experiences into the website to help students learn how to advocate for themselves with an IDD.

"If you walk into class and you have a broken leg, no one expects you to participate in gym class, but if you walk in, and for me, if I'm having a bad focusing day, I'm still expected to take notes or take part in that exam if there is an exam that day," said Elmslie.

"It's difficult to understand the magnitude to which someone is struggling if they have an invisible disability and it's hard to provide them with support if they're not self advocating, and for a lot of students, self advocacy is a struggle it was something they weren't taught to ever use before. So, I really wanted to use my own experiences and my knowledge of what it's like to struggle with an invisible disability, to help them as well."

In June, Elmslie was selected as the 2022 Sean Jackson Scholarship recipient from Meridian Credit Union, which is valued at $10,000. Elmslie said the money will go toward funding her education and plans to pursue a career in psychiatry. Elmslie is a first year student a Western University.

"There's obviously so many amazing applicants that applied this year, and I was so honoured to have received it," said Elmslie, adding her dream of becoming a psychiatrist seems more possible with the financial support.