A freshman nursing student at Dalhousie University in Halifax is the recipient of the inaugural Helping the Helpers scholarship.
“It is definitely an honour,” Madison Harpell, a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy in Sherbrooke, said.
Helping the Helpers – an Antigonish-based organization – hosts an annual post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness and education day, which is focussed on front-line professionals and their families.
Veteran paramedic John Garth MacDonald, one of those at the forefront of launching and growing the organization, explained why the group decided to award the annual $500 prize to future front-line professionals.
“They will be the game-changers,” he said.
He added they will be at the forefront of continuing the push for improved awareness and care for their colleagues – and families – living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“They will be the ones who will continue to break down barriers for front-line professionals,” MacDonald added.
Helping the Helpers formed a committee to select the recipient.
“Madison is a great choice,” MacDonald said, noting the response to the call for applications was strong.
Along with filling out an application, candidates were required to pen an essay focussed on research related to PTSD with front-line professionals.
With her piece, because there is “barely any” centred on nursing, Harpell took a broader approach.
“There are provinces that still do not recognize PTSD as a work injury,” she noted of her essay findings.
Harpell added “it was interesting to see how well, from province-to-province, you were supported, or not.”
“It was really, really interesting,” she said of her research process and findings.
She noted applying appealed to her because nursing is a field where professionals live and deal with PTSD.
“We are very susceptible too,” Harpell said.
She added the hard work involved in the process was worth it.
“I put my all into it,” Harpell said.
When she was asked why she made the commitment to applying for the Helping the Helpers scholarship, Harpell described MacDonald and his wife, Michelle, as inspirational.
“It is amazing what they do,” the university freshman said.
Harpell has witnessed the couple’s commitment to mental health awareness through Helping the Helpers over the past couple years in her work with the Healthy Active Lifestyle Team (HALT) in high school at St. Mary’s Academy.
“Madison has been a big support,” MacDonald said, noting he has told his story of living with PTSD during the annual HALT mental health awareness day.
He added that may have been “the hardest speech” he had ever given, considering he had to make some adjustments to his message “to suit their needs,” because it was for a younger audience and not front-line professionals.
“It is a small school and they have done some amazing things,” MacDonald said of their work, when it comes to mental health awareness, while noting HALT has made two monetary donations to Helping the Helpers.
Harpell said she was honoured to be part of HALT, including those memorable awareness days, which included t-shirts, lunch and speeches.
“It was an amazing experience,” she added.
Now home for Christmas break, with a semester of studies under her belt, Harpell said she made a great choice, one following in the footsteps of her mother, Amy, an LPN in the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital day surgery department in Antigonish.
“It is great to be able to connect with her on that level,” the daughter said.
Just one day before the conversation with the Casket, she and her mother shared time in the operating room.
“It was very interesting,” Harpell said of that experience.
But, it doesn’t mean that will become the focus for her studies.
She said there are myriad options for specialization in her Dal program, along with pairing areas, such as mental health and addictions.
“There are so many doors to open,” Harpell said.