Standing up for mental health

A $5-million donation is boosting research aimed at transforming the mental health care system

At 15 years old, Alec Cook knew he couldn’t continue living with the status quo. He was struggling with gender dysphoria, unable to access the health services he needed.

“There wasn’t much available to help me at the time and I sometimes felt like I wasn’t being heard by health providers,”
he says.

After receiving comprehensive care at the SickKids Transgender Youth Clinic in Toronto, Alec was inspired to do more and eventually connected with psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Arlene MacDougall. She offered him a high school co-op placement with the Mental Health INcubator for Disruptive
Solutions (MINDS) project.

MINDS is Canada’s first social innovation lab addressing complex community mental health challenges. It promotes the mental health and well-being of youth and young adults.

“I didn’t think I wanted to be part of the health system, but after doing advocacy work and working with MINDS, it showed me I could make an impact,” says Alec. “It really changed the course of my life.”

The MINDS initiative is entering its second phase this year, MINDS 2.0, focusing on access to quality mental health care, preventative measures and the intersection of social determinants, such as housing, poverty and trauma. Researchers hope to better understand and address the root causes of mental illness and design and implement relatable solutions with a broad group of community stakeholders.

“It’s a highly collaborative process,” explains Dr. MacDougall. “We’re using a broader system lens, expanding the scope to where people live, how they support themselves and others, and how they contribute to their community.”

Ryan Finch standing in a garage with cars
Ryan Finch recognizes the importance of mental health. With a gift of $5 million, he hopes to be a catalyst for meaningful change in the mental health care system.

As a business leader and family man, Ryan Finch recognizes the importance of mental health. With a gift of $5 million to St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, he hopes to be a catalyst for meaningful change in the mental health care system through initiatives like MINDS 2.0.

“Mental health is a cause people aren’t as willing to talk about, but it’s always been there,” says Ryan. “When I was younger, I had a ‘toughen up’ attitude about it, but I’ve come to understand people don’t need to suck it up, they really need help.”

As President of Finch Auto Group and Finch Group of Companies, Ryan championed the implementation of an Employee Assistance Program and brought the company on as presenting sponsor of the Foundation’s annual Breakfast of Champions dedicated to mental health awareness.

His donation is the largest known of its kind to mental health care research in Southwestern Ontario. It will also fund the Finch Family Chair in Mental Health System Transformation to lead an interdisciplinary research program, and it will fuel the development of special initiatives that further mental health care transformation locally.

Putting his name to the gift, Ryan hopes others will be inspired to come forward and stand up for mental health. “We feel like the lucky ones being able to do this,” he says. “We want to own it and be loud about it, to hopefully bring more people on board.”

“This is how transformational change happens,” adds Dr. MacDougall. “We need leaders like Ryan willing to step forward with courage and vision.”

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