2018 Role Model Spotlight Series
Mental Health Advocate Extraordinaire
“I think it's important to be courageous so these girls can be courageous as well – to be the person I needed when I was younger.”
Earlier this week I had the chance to speak with Kharoll-Ann Souffrant, a Master of Social Work student at McGill University and a mental health advocate extraordinaire. Kharoll-Ann’s work in her community as a volunteer and leader reminds us that role models need to be constantly committed to the betterment of the next generation. It is quite fitting that she hopes to become a university professor because she is aware of the positive change that young people may make when provided with support and guidance. Kharoll-Ann lives with Bipolar Disorder and speaks about her lived experience with mental illness to large audiences on a regular basis. She is resilient, honest, and articulate and knows how to use those attributes to communicate big ideas. I asked Kharoll-Ann some questions about her life as it is in 2018. So, here’s a closer look at Kharoll-Ann Souffrant’s work as an advocacy mogul in the mental health landscape in Canada.
RB: What are three personal characteristics that make you unique?
KA: “I love to laugh, like, I laugh like every day with my family, friends. It's really easy for me to laugh. The other thing is that I have a lot of empathy for others. I also don't judge others really. I take the time to understand other people. I always think that everyone is fighting a battle that no one knows anything about. I would say when I want something I work to get it and I work until I get it. I never give up.”
RB: Tell me about your history as a mental health advocate.
KA: “When I was in high school and elementary school I experienced a lot of, like, bullying, racism, and my parents separated when I was fourteen. So because I was not doing well in school and at home I was not feeling well at all. So I got diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when I was seventeen. For all of these years I was not doing well. I had a lot of anxiety, depressive symptoms mostly. When I finished high school that's when I got diagnosed. I quickly accepted the diagnosis. It made sense for me. I knew that I would speak eventually about my experience. I just did not know when and how. A few years after that I saw a call for applications to do a Ted Talk in Quebec City. I had my idea in mind. I wasn't really sure but I still applied a few days before the deadline. I knew that it was going to be about recovery, mental health, my story but also with some research to illustrate my story and the points that I wanted to make. They called me back for an audition and I got selected to do the talk. That was in December 2015. That was the first time I spoke really publicly about my mental illness and my experience.”
RB: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
KA: “I wanted to be a singer, but I don't sing really well. I learned to play the guitar and I wanted to write songs. Avril Lavigne was my huge idol. I learned English through her songs because I was translating the words because I wanted to understand. I felt like her songs meant something that was meaningful. When I was not doing well, music was something that was really important for me. So I was listening to songs that I could really relate to.”
RB: What does your career path look like today?
KA: “Today I'm a Master of Social Work student at McGill. I did a Bachelor of Social Work and before that I did a degree in youth and adult correctional intervention. I want to apply to do a PhD in social work and I would like to be a teacher and a professor in university. I'm really passionate about social work and I've worked before in the field with women who were victims of violence, mental health, and other fields. I've also been a volunteer since I was like twelve years old. I would like to be a professor because when I was not doing well in high school the professors that I had really had a positive impact on me. They really believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. So I would like to be that person for the next generation and to be a role model for them and to really, like, mentor them to eventually be better than I am. I'm applying to do a PhD in fall 2019. I have one year left in my masters and we'll see how it goes.”
RB: What does it mean to you to be a positive role model, especially as a person of colour?
KA: “I do a lot of talks. [I've been invited] to speak to teen girls of Asian descent in Montreal. This really means a lot to me because when I was that age, I didn't have a lot of role models that looked like me and that I could identify with. It's really important for me to be a positive role model for young girls because I remember when I was that age I did not have that. I also think as women, when we try to go forward we get imposter syndrome. For me, like, sometimes I'm doubtful about the things I do but I always think about the young girls and I always tell myself that I need to go forward if I want these girls to go forward and pursue their dreams. I think it's important to be courageous so these girls can be courageous as well – to be the person I needed when I was younger.”
We concluded the interview with a promise to stay in touch. To me, that kind of commitment to continuing relationships is an example of why Kharoll-Ann is an excellent role model. In life, there are connections to be made wherever we go and as women and girls, it’s essential to foster them as much as possible so that we can develop strong networks and broaden our circles. Kharoll-Ann reminded me today that we must be open to gathering new experiences because learning never stops.