By Carley Crain
A simple text message. A quick facetime call to a friend asking how they are doing. A phone call to one’s family just to tell them how much they’re loved. The power of conversation – no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time – can transform lives.
On Thursday night at the Marsh Memorial Chapel, mental health advocate and motivational speaker Loizza Aquino gave her speech, “The Power of Conversation” to a variety of members from the Springfield College community.
Sponsored by the Y Club and the YMCA office, members of the audience left the Chapel on Thursday night with a different understanding of mental health and a new, simple approach to supporting people who struggle with mental health issues. Aqunio’s approach to mental health is not complex, as she emphasized how a simple conversation can go a long way.
“Conversation has the power to change people’s lives, but also can save people’s lives,” Aquino said. “That feeling that you get when you realize that a simple conversation you had with someone saved their life, is the greatest feeling in the world. Honestly, sometimes you may not even notice that you saved that person’s life.”
Aquino grew up advocating for change within her community and for her hometown environment. She and her family grew up in the Philippines and helped spread awareness about environmental issues threatening their community.
In a span of just one week, she helped raise over $600 to assist victims of a tsunami, as well as collect non-perishable food items, toiletries and clothing for the victims.
Aquino’s passion for mental health started with the unfortunate death of her best friend, Miguel. In a span of just one month, his death was one of four suicides that happened in her hometown.
Coping with his death was difficult, but Aquino decided to take action and created the non-profit organization, Peace of Mind 204 (now known as Peace of Mind Canada). Peace of Mind strives to start conversations about mental health, as well as create a safe haven for people who may be struggling with mental health issues.
Peace of Mind holds summits frequently, also known as Youth Against Mental Health and Illness Stigma (YAMHIS) events, to help youth share their experiences regarding mental health.
“The stigma surrounding mental health is only eradicated by conversation and without that conversation there will always be stigma,” Aquino said.
Aquino currently attends the University of Toronto, double-majoring in mental health studies and international development studies, as well as minoring in urban public policy and governance.
After three individuals at the University of Toronto died by suicide in a span of just one year, Aquino immediately took action and got many members of the University involved.
Despite ongoing conflicts with mental health policies on her campus, Aquino sparked a university-wide conversation to help break the stigma surrounding mental health. Her passion and dedication to helping others and spreading awareness about mental health has shown the power of how a simple conversation and being willing to talk about “it” can save lives.
Not only does Aquino emphasize the “Power of Conversation,” but she also highlights the importance of being a good listener, and becoming more understanding of people’s unique experiences. She advocates for being one’s own support system, and taking the positives out of any situation.
While being a full-time student at the University of Toronto and managing a nonprofit organization, Aquino still makes time to be heavily involved with the YMCA.
In the fall of 2018, Aquino was one of three recipients to receive the YMCA Peace Medal Award as well as became the youngest recipient ever of the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award.
She speaks at conferences worldwide alongside the YMCA, most recently here at Springfield College, about how she has helped hundreds of young adults open up about their experiences regarding mental health.
Aqunio’s words hit close to home for many members of the audience, and left a lasting impact on Springfield College students, faculty, and staff.
“One of the amazing things I have learned while being an advocate for mental health is it does not cost anything,” Aquino said.
“All you need is your voice and you just need conversation, and so I realized that conversation leads to awareness and awareness leads to education and education leads to a more powerful and more understanding, empathetic approach to mental health, which is what we really need.”
Photos Courtesy of Springfield College Marketing & Communications