About Alexis Epp
Alexis Epp helped develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30L program through the Sunwest School Division. She is finishing her 3rd year of her Bachelor of Social Work degree through the University of Regina and is a certified peer support.
Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province and create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing school work or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends.
Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies to center around consumers rather than policymakers.
Connect with Alexis: Email
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
Bachelor of Social Work – University of Regina
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:55):
Welcome back to the show.
Sam Demma (00:56):
Today’s special guest is Alexis Epp. Alexis help develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30 program through the Sunwest School division. She’s currently finishing her third year of her Bachelor of Social Work through the University of Regina, and is a certified peer support. Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province, as well as to create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing schoolwork or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends. Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies so that they can center around consumers rather than the policy makers themselves. I hope you enjoy this interview with Alexis and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, and today we are joined by a very special guest, Alexis Epp. Alexis was connected to me through a past guest, Elena, and I’m so excited to have her on the show today. Alexis, welcome.
Alexis Epp (02:02):
Thanks for having me.
Sam Demma (02:03):
Please start by introducing yourself.
Alexis Epp (02:05):
Yeah, my name is Alexis Epp. I’m 25. I am currently just finishing up my third year of social work. It’s a four year program, so one more year and I get my degree. I was born and raised in a small town and yeah, I helped Elena make the Mental Wellness 30 program and now we’re here.
Sam Demma (02:24):
What was your experience like growing up in a small town? Whereabouts are you from?
Alexis Epp (02:30):
It’s called Bigger Saskatchewan, if you’ve ever heard of it. The slogan is New York is big, but this is bigger. Nice <laugh>. Yeah, it’s great. It was really difficult for me, honestly small towns, very limited resources, so when you’re struggling with mental health, there’s not much that can be done. I was extremely lucky that the family I came from had the financial resources where they could take me into Saskatoon to get me the help I needed. But I know lots of people aren’t that fortunate, so I was extremely lucky that way.
Sam Demma (03:12):
When you say you struggled with mental health, was it something that started when you were in school or when do you think you started struggling?
Alexis Epp (03:22):
I think I’ve struggled my whole life honestly with anxiety but it’s not really, When I was growing up, it wasn’t really something that was talked about, so I didn’t know I was struggling. I just got it. It was kind of that, Oh, you’re nervous. I competed in pianos. So it was always just, Oh, that’s just the nerves. And I mean, I would cry before I went on stage and it just got chalked up to, Oh, those are just nerves. So I thought that was normal. And then when I was around 14 or 15 I really started to notice it. Then I was having trouble with my motivation. I had trouble getting up for school. I was missing a lot of school at that point. I always had stomach pain physical pain, and I was like, This just doesn’t make sense. And so my mom took me to my family doctor and that’s where I first heard the word depression. And I wasn’t really told much about it. I was just kinda, Oh, I think you have depression. Here’s a pill, take it every day. And sent me on my way. And so as a 14, 15 year old, I kind of took it when I took it if I felt like it. And so it didn’t really help me. <laugh>
Sam Demma (04:45):
<affirmative>. At what point did you start building the habits and the practices to really cope with what you were experiencing and grow into the person you are today? <laugh>?
Alexis Epp (04:58):
Honestly, not until I was around 20. It took me a really long time and a lot of traumatic experiences and just, I hit rock bottom and that’s when I was like, Okay, something needs to change. Cause obviously this is not working. And so in high school I had missed so much school, I had fallen so far behind. So I actually got my adult 12 instead of my full grade 12. So I had gotten that and that really, there’s a lot of stigma behind that. I thought I was a failure because I didn’t get my full 24 credits in high school. So I was very ashamed, felt super guilty. It was really hard for me. And then after I had graduated with my adult 12, there was some really bad accidents in bigger and three of my friends passed away within three days. And I mean, I wasn’t taught how to breathe as an 18 year old.
Alexis Epp (06:03):
I didn’t know what it was like to lose someone at such a young age and three people within three days. It was a lot for me to handle. So I decided I couldn’t be in that town anymore where I was constantly reminded of all of my law. And so I moved to Saskatoon shortly after I graduated and kind of was like, Okay, new city, fresh start, everything’s gonna be perfect. And unfortunately running away from your problems doesn’t work <laugh>. So when I moved to the city I originally was a nanny and for a while things were really good. I had thought things cause I had moved, everything was better <affirmative>, it solved my problems. But then I faced more trauma and I ended up losing my uncle who I was very close to and then my grandpa. And then I had a cousin pass away from an overdose and then my parents got divorced and it was just one thing after another and I started to spiral again cause I didn’t have those coping tools, <affirmative>.
Alexis Epp (07:18):
So I didn’t know what to do. And I had actually made a plan to take my life and my mom had found out about it. And so she took me to the emergency room. And in there it was not a great experience. I was put in a kind of closet. It was technically a room, but it was a storage closet with a bed. And so I was in there for around 10 hours total. And no one really checked on me while I was in there. And so I just started, we spiraling even more and I was texting my mom cause she had to go back to work and I said, I can’t do this. Can’t when I get out I can’t do this anymore. So my mom came back and showed the nurses my text messages and the nurse straight up said to my mom, she wasn’t just looking for pension.
Alexis Epp (08:22):
So yeah, it was a really bad experience. And from there I got admitted to the hospital where I spent around two months there. And while I was there Elena, I reached out to Elena cause I was taking classes again cause I was in a good place at the time. And then it happened really fast. So I called her and kind of told her what was going on and why I wasn’t handing an assignment. And she was like, Can I come visit you? And I was like, It’s not fun here. It’s like a jail, honestly, you have to buzz in and out. But I was like, If you want. So she came to visit me and said, Do you wanna build this mental wellness class with me? Like I said, I thought she was absolutely crazy at the time. I was like, mm-hmm <affirmative>, okay, whatever. But it kind of just really exploded from there and after I had gotten the help I needed from there.
Sam Demma (09:24):
That’s awesome. What was the experience like? First of all, thank you for sharing such vulnerable parts of your journey and your story. And I know there are people that can relate to certain parts of it and I appreciate you for being open and sharing that. What was the experience like building a curriculum with your teacher <laugh>? Like what did that even look like?
Alexis Epp (09:48):
It was honestly wild at the beginning. It was a lot of late nights cuz we were doing this just as volunteers at the beginning late nights over coffee, just kind of hanging out, really getting to know one another. And Elena actually through the journey, became one of my best friends. And it’s really cool the course because it came from a youth perspective. So I mean now that I’m a little bit older, it’s not necessarily the same, but back then I could really relate to what youth were going through cuz I was a youth. And when I went to my parents and I was like, I need help, their reaction was we don’t know how to help you because when we were your age, mental health wasn’t talked about. It was pushed under the rug. So when I went to them, there was, we don’t know what to do. So it was kind of a lot of just learning together and taking the resources that I had gotten from my therapist and doctors and nurses and social workers and everyone and just making these resources accessible to those who need it. Cause it shouldn’t be hard to get help for your mental health. And right now it still is unfortunately.
Sam Demma (11:12):
What are the avenues of help that you found most helpful that you think if another student is struggling they should look into?
Alexis Epp (11:22):
First and foremost, I definitely recommend if you are in crisis or just need someone to talk to you, kids help. Phone is absolutely amazing. I’ve used them a lot and even as a 25 year old, I know you can still use them as an adult. So that’s definitely a good place to start if you’re struggling. I don’t know about other places, but I know in Saskatchewan we have something called mobile crisis. If you are struggling they can help you out as well. And I believe it’s two 11 now in Saskatchewan where you can text them and they can give you resources where you are, which is awesome. So yeah, there’s lots of resources that are coming forward. But I would say my saving grace was honestly my psychiatrist, which is unfortunate in a way because they are quite inaccessible and there’s very long wait lists and not very many. But that really truly made the difference for me.
Sam Demma (12:28):
What did they do for you that you think really helped or Yeah, what was it about that relationship that you think really assisted you?
Alexis Epp (12:43):
It’s hard to explain, but I guess the relationship was, she just validated how I was feeling instead of offering me opinions or telling me to just be happy, she really validated how I was feeling and didn’t try and explain it, but she said, It’s okay, you feel this way. And I think that was one of the biggest things, but she just listened to me and it’s hard to find that lots of people are trying to help but give unsolicited opinions and that can be really hard when you’re struggling,
Sam Demma (13:16):
Especially if you make it seem like you know what they’re going through and you might have no idea. It’s like
Alexis Epp (13:23):
Absolutely, I think it’s very frustrating and I know people come from a good place, but when you’re in that position, especially me with my depression, I know what I need to do. I’m just stuck in that freeze mode where I just can’t bring myself to do it, but I know what I need to do, I just can’t do it. So when other people are constantly telling you and reminding you what you need to do, it gets really overwhelming.
Sam Demma (13:50):
When a student approaches a teacher and is struggling with their mental health, what would you recommend a teacher or an educator do? Who wants to support?
Alexis Epp (14:00):
First of all just listen. Don’t try and diminish it or say, I got this a lot in high school, but that’s just normal teenage problems. And I’m like, no it’s not. So definitely just listen, keep an open ear. And I would say safety is number one. As a future social worker even that’s one of the first things we’re taught. If someone talks about suicide, they need help and that’s a crisis. So you can’t really wait and see if that one’s gonna get better. Take that as an emergency and get the emergency help, whether that’s police or a social worker or the parent that needs help. But yeah, I would definitely just say listen. And in our school division we have something called Teacher resource base and we have so many mental health resources in there for students and teachers. So that’s definitely a really great thing to provide the students with. I would say yeah, just listen and if they ask for, help them, but kinda follow their lead, see what they need, not what you think they need, but find out what they actually need.
Sam Demma (15:28):
That’s great advice. Thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. I know there’s so many teachers who can relate to that experience and who have had students approach them before and maybe felt a little handicapped as if they weren’t sure what the best route of action was to help that individual even though they really wanted to.
Alexis Epp (15:47):
And that’s the thing, I know so many teachers who want to help but they don’t know how. And just remember that when a student comes to you, that’s a very vulnerable position to be asking for help that that’s a lot of trust. So definitely just make sure you’re taking that seriously with the trust and maintain that trust.
Sam Demma (16:08):
Awesome. So you ended up helping with the building of the curriculum? Yes. Tell me more about that experience. So once it was finished, after all the long nights and the coffee chats and getting to know each other and becoming best friends, what has happened since? Or did you help teach it? Tell me more about it.
Alexis Epp (16:31):
Yeah, so I’ve gotten a lot of cool experiences from it actually. I did get the chance to help out at school in Saskatoon here, one of our pilot programs. And so Elena and I would go there and I actually got trained as a peer support through the program. So I’m a peer support through the program so students can talk to me and I can kinda just listen and be a friend. And then I was given the opportunity to work with Cmha National and be on their youth advisory council. And so I got to do that, which was really cool. Brought a lot of cool opportunities, just giving my opinion as a youth trying to advocate for youth across Canada. And then I was also given the opportunity to be on the Saskatchewan advocate for children and their youth council. Nice. And with that, I was actually asked to, they just released a report I believe back in March called Desperately Waiting and they gave some recommendations to the government about some changes that can be made for youth with mental health and within school systems. And so I actually got to go to the legislative building in Regina and speak to some officials about that report. So that was a really neat opportunity.
Sam Demma (18:01):
And where has your journey taken you now? So you finished the building of the course got back on your feet per se, and where do you see yourself in the next couple of years? What are you pursuing now?
Alexis Epp (18:17):
Yeah, so I am just about done my social work program. So then I will have my bachelor social work nice. And my plan is to work for a few years and then go back and get my masters and then eventually I really wanna go into policy and make a difference because I’ve been in the system, I know how hard it is for both the consumers, the people are using the system as well as people working within the system. It’s super frustrating for everyone involved. And so I feel like policy needs to be created around the people who actually are in need of the policy and in need of the system. So that’s kind of the end goal.
Sam Demma (19:03):
I love that. Something you mentioned earlier that caught my attention was coping tools. You know, mentioned that when you first were starting your own journey, navigating through mental health, you felt like you didn’t really have the tools you needed and I’m sure many young people and even adults can relate. What are some of the things that you continuously go back to try and maintain positive mental health and to I guess help yourself when you’re not feeling the best?
Alexis Epp (19:35):
So I actually have three things that I use consistently. For me, the biggest thing was just starting things. So I use something called the five minute Rule. And when I’m having bad days, which I still do and that’s okay, I did a five minute rule where no matter how badly you don’t wanna do something, just start it and do it for five minutes. And if after five minutes you still are really down, really not wanting to do it, that’s okay, you don’t have to do it. But usually those five minutes you kind of just forget that you didn’t wanna do it in the first place and you get over that hump. So that’s one of my biggest things. My second one is the five senses, if you’ve heard of that
Sam Demma (20:28):
Alexis Epp (20:29):
Is it’s cause I still have anxiety. So what it is, you can do it quietly, you can do it out loud, doesn’t matter. You look around and find five things you can see and then you list those off. And when I’m having really bad anxiety attacks I think about the textures, the colors I go into details. And then, so it’s five things you can see, four things you can touch three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. And when you’re focusing on your senses, you can’t think about two things at once. So it’s very grounding and it takes you away from what you are anxious about and really just grounds you and makes you focus on the presence.
Sam Demma (21:25):
I love that one.
Alexis Epp (21:26):
<laugh>. Yeah. And then my last one is based on scenarios. So when I’m anxious about something or overthinking something, I’ll take a piece of paper and I write the best case scenario, worst case scenario and the most likely case scenario. And then I’ll write each of those out. And then I will also write kind of a game plan. If the worst case scenario happens, what am I gonna do? And so after I’ve written those all out, it kind of just makes you look at it from a different perspective. And sometimes I’m like, that’s so unlikely that that’s not gonna happen. But then even if it does happen, you have a game plan. So it takes away some of those worries.
Sam Demma (22:09):
That’s awesome. I love that. Do you crumple the page and throw it out after <laugh>
Alexis Epp (22:14):
Do actually. Okay. Sometimes I’ll rip it up and yeah, I usually wait until the scenario plays out and then I’m like, okay, I don’t need to, It helped me and now it’s done.
Sam Demma (22:26):
Cool. I’m curious, it sounds like the relationship you had with Elena, with your psychiatrist really helped you turn into your own success story. And I’m curious to know if the mental wellness study program has had students go through it who at first were really struggling and came out the other side feeling like they were in a much better place mentally. And if so, are there any specific examples or stories of students that come to mind when you think about those individuals? And if you could share one and you could change their name if it’s a serious one. I just think it’s important to remind people that influence work with or impact youth of stories like these positive transformations to remind them why the work they’re doing is so important.
Alexis Epp (23:13):
<affirmative> honestly, I think every single student who has gone through the program has had that significant change whether or not they were struggling. Everyone knows someone who is struggling with mental health. So even if you’re not someone who is, Yeah. So I think that’s been a really big impact. And just within the course we have a lot of lived experiences and I’ve heard so much feedback on that and I’ve had students tell me I thought I was the only one who went through that. So just knowing there are other people out there who they can relate to has been a really big thing. And I’ve had students tell me when they started this program, they were just kind of lost and didn’t know where to turn, what to do, and just kind of stuck in that fight or flight or freeze mode and they just didn’t know what to do. And going through the program just gave them the tools to get out of that and be able to think more clearly I guess. So yeah, I, I’ve had students who have struggled really bad with their family lives, with their schools, with bullying and this program gave them the tools to get the help they needed whether it was professional help or not. Cause this is not professional help in the course, but it does direct them to the helps that they need.
Sam Demma (24:50):
Awesome. That’s so cool. And who’s the course available to, if someone wanted to check it out, could someone search it online or how would someone find it?
Alexis Epp (25:00):
Yeah, for sure you can. Right now it counts as a credit but only in Saskatchewan. Cool. It’s available to all the Sun School Vision students, but if people are interested they can, I believe Elena gave her email during the last Yeah. When she was on here. Yeah. So if there’s anyone interested in the program, whether they’re students or teachers, they can reach out to her or just Google the Mental Wellness 30 program through Sun West School division and they can kind of check it out that way. And if they email Elena directly, she is able to give them a bit more access and help them out that way.
Sam Demma (25:46):
Okay. Awesome. And if you could take your experiences throughout school and education and wrap them all up into a form of advice and go back in time and give your younger self some words of wisdom and support. Knowing what you know now, what would you have told your younger self when you were just starting high school?
Alexis Epp (26:08):
Knowing what I know now, I would probably tell myself that you’re not alone. No matter how isolated you feel. There are other people struggling, there are other people who can maybe not exactly relate, but they’re going through something similar and you just kind of gotta find your people. Like you’re not stuck in the same spot forever. Even if it feels like a crisis now you’ll, you’ll have good days and bad days, but things get better and you do find your people
Sam Demma (26:43):
People. Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much for taking half an hour out of your day to come on the podcast and share some of your experiences and insights relating to mental health and just education. If someone wants to reach out to you and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?
Alexis Epp (27:02):
They can email me and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Demma (27:09):
Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much. Keep up the great work. Best of luck with the social work and the policy making and the feature, and I look forward to staying in touch.
Alexis Epp (27:18):
Thank you so much.
Sam Demma (27:21):
I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.
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