• Shaelyn Heise

Spotlight- Bridges of Hope Project

We love to support others in our community promoting positive Mental Health awareness and opening the conversation for change. Olivia Miller is doing exactly that with an organization her and a friend created, "Bridges of Hope Project".

Read in Olivia's words a little bit about her story and experience with Mental Health:

"There was once I time that I thought I understood everything there is to know about the world. Sounds crazy, but we tend to get stuck in our own thoughts and beliefs about the environment around us once we have defining moments in our lives that challenges us to think differently. I thought I knew everything there is to know about how the world works, until I had one of those moments. Actually, I had several defining moments, back-to-back, non-stop and emotionally challenging beyond what I could handle. These defining moments that I’m referring to are what others may call the "high school experience”. My high school experience wasn’t much different than my peers, but I was different. I was a people pleaser with the desperation to figure out what others thought of me so I could change to be better. Because of my ability to feel emotions deeply, I was always trying to find my place in a more significant way. I wanted to know my purpose and my place.  There were several times when I thought that I knew what both of those were, but the non-stop, defining moments always challenged it. Cyber-bullying, fallouts, public embarrassment - they are all part of the high school experience! However, I didn’t like constantly changing my mind about what I thought I was put on this earth to do and who I was here to connect with. It felt isolating and overwhelming. One day during the summer before my last year, a friend messaged me a link to an article about a teenager in Sunderland, UK, who attached positive messages to a frequently travelled bridge. In doing so, she prevented over a dozen suicides. I felt that this was a sign, and I encouraged my friend to think with me about how we could bring this idea to Waterloo Region. I had always wanted to change mental health awareness in my community and this seemed like a great chance to. We called it Bridges of Hope. Bridges of Hope ran three events over one weekend where messages submitted by communities members and local schools were laminated and attached to the bridges in New Hamburg, Kitchener and Waterloo. We invited multiple politicians and leaders in the community to share their stories with participants and took donations for local mental health organizations. These events created a ripple effect of representing our community as youth leaders in action, ambassadors, public speakers, activists and change makers. It was an incredible defining moment. The only personal issue with this project is that the struggles I had before didn’t just go away. Actually, they were enhanced. It felt as though I was living under a microscope more than I had been before. I felt that activism was my purpose and the mental health community was who I was to connect with. I still do believe this, however, I’ve since had to change the pressure that I put on myself to be a perfect representation of youth mental health advocacy. The “high school experience” really is full of life lessons, and after the Bridges of Hope events, I felt overloaded with emotions. My mental health needed to become my first priority, as qualifying to graduate high school was gradually becoming more of a challenge. I wasn’t able to make it to classes because of my anxiety and I was isolating myself often.  Mental Health is not a linear, predictable line. Even though I do believe that my purpose is to bring a voice to a silent illness, I have had to learn through this defining moment and the many others that occurred in high school, that I have to bring a voice forward for myself. If I am not feeling complete, I cannot fill the gap that others feel. It is still a journey for me find a balance. I still care about what people think of me and struggle with giving too much of energy to others, but I am learning and growing. Becoming aware of your limits is the biggest factor in continued stability. No matter what defining moments come your way, if you are thinking about what you can do to take care of yourself always, they won’t feel so detrimental. I would encourage anyone who is feeling voiceless because of life’s obstacles to take a step back and reflect on what may be preventing you from feeling better. As Dolly Parton once said, “never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life."

-Olivia Miller, Director of The Bridges of Hope Project

To Learn more about Bridges of Hope follow them on Instagram and Facebook @bridgesofhopeproject



Based In Kitchener, Ontario