When Hassan Nawab started hanging posters around CAB for his student group two years ago, it was his first step towards turning his passion for mental health into something tangible.
Now, the fifth-year honours psychology student is being recognized for all his work towards addressing student mental health with the Donald S. Ethell Youth Award from the Lieutenant Governor’s Circle on Mental Health and Addiction. The award, given out by the Lieutenant Governor every three years, recognizes Alberta youth aged 12 to 25 that have contributed towards raising awareness and reducing stigma towards mental health.
To his surprise, Nawab was secretly nominated by the executive team from Active Minds, the student group he founded in 2018. The group focuses on creating various initiatives aiming to “change the conversation” around mental health.
For Nawab, watching his initiative progress from flyering around CAB to being recognized by the Lieutenant Governor speaks to how the group’s hard work is helping change how the University of Alberta community handles mental health.
“It really speaks to the fact that if you’re motivated and passionate about something, you can make that change happen,” he said. “[Recieving the award] was very humbling, very motivating and I’m just so happy.”
“To see Active Minds progress and to see formal recognition by the Lieutenant Governor speaks to the progression of the social movement and it further enriches what we speak on and what we want to change.”
One of Active Minds’ current projects is currently working on a music project. Their app, which was created with the help of computer science student Maaz Siddique, debuted in October and has 70 downloads on Android. The group is continuing to working on putting it on the Apple App Store.
Nawab inspired to create student group after his mother fell ill
Nawab’s passion for mental health began with the transition from high school to university, which is often a difficult time for first and second-year students.
“Seeing how that transition was for me as well as other students around me in my first and second year and seeing different student struggle with their mental health was something that was really new to me,” he explained. “In high school, we were almost put in this bubble, but when we came to university I soon realized that this is a major challenge for many students.”
Alongside struggling with that transition, Nawab’s mental health was further challenged when he withdrew from a semester in his second-year to take care of his mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We have a very close relationship,” he said. “When I was young, my mom, my three sisters and I were always at home and my dad was working in a different city.”
“In that time off I really experienced a toll on my mental health and that made me put myself into the shoes of other people,” he said. “When I came back after that semester, that is when I said something needs to happen.”
When he returned that semester, Nawab determined that creating a group to address mental health on campus was the best plan of action. However, he’s come to see Active Minds as much more than just a “student group.”
“I like to see active minds as a social movement — we’re a registered student group, but we’re more so a grassroots movement of collective like-minded people that really want to make a change,” he explained. “[Being a student group] is the medium through which we can create these changes.”
Nawab’s mother has recovered and is currently in remission, but the chances of her cancer returning is something he has learned to manage for the sake of his own mental health.
“The uncertainty is still there, but I’ve learned to manage that — I take the positives out,” he said. “Through my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis I’ve learned that some things are inevitable and unavoidable, but I learned positivity… If something is thrown upon you in life, how can you adapt? I learned that with this experience… the passion from there is funnelled into Active Minds.”
This isn’t the first time Nawab has been recognized with an award. In 2019 Nawab won the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award for continuing his volunteer efforts regarding mental health despite taking care of his mother during that time.
Currently, Nawab is researching cyberbullying and cyber victimization among LGBTQ2S+ individuals at the U of A’s PEERS Lab under the direction of psychology assistant professor Wendy Hoglund.
He hopes to go to medical school next year and eventually go into psychiatry so he can continue performing mental health research on marginalized communities.
For fellow students, Nawab shares a simple piece of advice that has gotten him through his hardships: never give up.
“To be where I am now is really humbling, My main message is you can’t give up despite any adversity you face,” he said. “To start up Active Minds was a huge challenge. There were days where you set something up and you see it not succeed the way you wanted it to.”
“The reason I’ve reached this [position] is never giving up — never give up in the pursuit of your passion.”