Justin Preston isn’t afraid to talk about his struggles with anxiety and depression.
The Kids Help Phone ambassador says mental health is an issue that can only be solved with education and a lot of discussion.
“A lot more work needs to be done,” he explains.
“With all these incidents happening with beautiful young lives being taken because of people not being able to have access to a professional counsellor, or a safe place to go without feeling like they are being pushed away, we’re just not where we need to be. Mental health is something that needs to be talked about.”
Preston says that’s where services like Kids Help Phone comes in. It’s a phone service that is available 24/7 to young people across Canada. A young person can dial 1-800-668-6868 in any moment of crisis or need to speak with a Kids Help Phone counsellor.
After suffering in silence himself, he became an advocate against bullying and in his teenage years, launched his Rise Against Bullying Campaign via Facebook where he talks to young people from around the world who are facing their own battles with mental health.
Preston says it was time for him to give back to people in need.
“When I’m able to help people, who are suffering like I struggle with mental health, it’s like gas to me. It makes me happy and it keeps me going.”
His fundraising efforts caught the attention of the Kids Help Phone, who made him an ambassador for the service, and today he often finds himself travelling across the country to share his story with others.
He says Kids Help Phone has recently re-branded itself, not wanting to be known as just for children.
“The line is available to all young people, including children and college and university students,” he says.
“The idea Kids Help Phone hopes to share is that the door is open for young people to access counsellors who understand that you’re struggling, and they are there for you.”
Recently, Kids Help Phone has expanded its service to offering counselling through texting.
“Now, if someone is in crisis, they can send a text. There’s a trend where kids nowadays are afraid to call. This is just one more option for them to get help,” Preston explains.
“They can send a text and find the comfort and help they need through a screen.”
The openly gay man was brutally bullied by his peers during his high school years and he felt like he had no one to turn to.
One day, while sitting alone in his bedroom, Preston somehow found the courage to pick up the phone and call for help. He found what he was looking for at the other end of the line from a Kids Help Phone counsellor.
He says he found comfort and solace. The counsellor let him know he wasn’t alone.
The one thing Preston wishes everyone would understand is mental health isn’t something that just goes away on its own. A person can’t just wake up and decide not to be sad one day.
“Some people still think mental health is something you can simply get over, but it’s not,” Preston says.
“People that say things like that don’t get it…education needs to be out there, and hopefully one day people don’t know what it’s like to suffer from a mental issue.”
The need for the service continues to grow each year, which is why Preston continues to raise funds for the service. He will be participating in the Walk So Kids Can Talk 5-K Walk in St. Catharines at Jaycee Gardens Park on May 5.
Preston has already achieved his goal of raising $1,000 for the walk, and he hopes to beat last year’s goal of $1,460.
He’s raised over $4,000 for Kids Help Phone in four years.
“I’m so grateful to all of the people who have supported me over the years by donating. Whether it’s a dollar or $25, every little bit makes a huge difference in someone else’s life.”
To donate to Kids Help Phone, visit https://walksokidscantalk.ca, click donate, and type ‘Justin Preston’ in the search bar and select Niagara-St. Catharines as the location.
Preston also wants people to walk beside him during the event.
“I’d like to extend an open invitation to everybody who knows somebody, who has been in crisis themselves to come out and do the walk. You don’t need to raise money. I just want anyone who wants to, to come and meet new people,” he says.
Anyone interested in walking with Preston can send him an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.