2017 Medavie Scholarship Honouring Pierre-Yves Julien awarded to Keith MacIsaac

Keith MacIsaac is the 2017 recipient of the Medavie Scholarship honouring Pierre-Yves Julien. A student in the therapeutic recreation program at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Keith is a member of Laing House, a peer support organization for youth living with mental illness. For Keith, receiving this scholarship means he can continue his schooling without having to worry about his financial situation, giving him more time to focus on his studies and his mental health. Keith’s story is one of determination and resilience, and proof that no matter the situation, there’s always hope and people willing to help.

keith3-577x1024.jpg“Throughout my childhood, I experienced mood swings and periods of discomfort, but thought nothing of it,” says Keith. “It wasn’t until my teenage years that I recognized these feelings as anxiety and depression.” In 2010, Keith enrolled at Dalhousie University, motivated and eager to learn. But the years of pushing away these feelings caught up to him and in 2013 he was forced to withdraw from school. About a year later, he felt his depression was under control, and became excited once again for the future. However, once again, overwhelmed by anxiety, coupled with not eating or sleeping, and he began experiencing panic attacks that became more and more frequent. It was during one of these attacks he was admitted to hospital and received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. “Being labelled as mentally ill sent me into a deep depression,” recalls Keith. “It was a very difficult time.” He isolated himself, losing touch with friends, quit his job and was put on academic probation. Filled with despair, his use of drugs, alcohol and self-harm as coping mechanisms increased – doing just about anything to numb the feelings he was experiencing.

Having heard about Laing House, Keith finally mustered up the courage to walk through the door. “This is where my road to recovery began,” says Keith. “At first, simply showing up was all I could manage, but as time went on, I started spending more time there, making friends and finally participating in programs.” With support from Laing and professional help, and a new focus and determination, Keith began to turn his life around. He returned to school in 2016 and earned a spot on the Dean’s List. “This is one of my proudest accomplishments,” says Keith, with pride in his voice.

Today, when he’s not studying, Keith can be seen around Laing House, facilitating a discussion group on mental health and addictions, and participating in Youth Speak, a program designed to help break down barriers, reduce stigma and normalize the conversation around mental illness. Having learned the importance of self-care and recreation on his own path to wellness, Keith hopes to help others as a recreation therapist.

“Based on my own experience, I really want to help people who are struggling with mental health and addictions. Engaging in recreational activities provides such a strong, positive foundation for good mental health.”

Keith’s advice to those struggling? “Ask for help,” says Keith. “Help is always out there and can be found in special places like Laing House.”