In 2014, Jim Steffler, Executive Vice President of People at LGM Financial Services, founded the LGM Continuous Learning Bursary – a program that supports individuals in British Columbia through their mental health journey, and empowers them to achieve their career and educational goals.
In hand with the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division (CMHA), one individual is awarded a $1,000 bursary to help nurture their passion for continuous learning and build their self-esteem. LGM is a firm believer in removing the stigma around mental health and instead, recognizing the importance of health and wellness in the workplace. We strive to offer employees a safe place to feel supported while having those important discussions.
We had the privilege of speaking with this year’s award recipient, Stephanie, to learn more about the challenges she’s overcome and what this bursary means to her. Read the full interview below.
Congratulations Stephanie! How does it feel to win the LGM Continuous Learning Bursary Award?
Thank you, I’m so grateful! It feels really good to be recognized for the challenges that I’ve been through, and for how I’ve kept pushing forward. I’ve had many setbacks in my life and there have been times where I’ve wanted to pull back from school and work. For me, winning this award has been so uplifting – it’s a welcomed reminder that I am not alone in this journey.
Will you tell us about your lived experience with mental health, and how you sought the treatment and support you needed?
I’ve had experiences with anxiety and depression, and more recently, trauma and grief. Despite those challenges, I’m grateful to have had an incredible support system to lean on – but I had to come to the realization that recovery is important before accessing that support. It sounds simple, but it’s not that easy to come to terms with.
I still visit a private trauma counselor regularly, and I’ve completed a few YMCA group programs that are designed for individuals that are dealing specifically with grief. I also work with a doctor and naturopath, and have an amazing network of family and friends.
I’m also especially proud of the peer support group that I formed, specifically around the opioid crisis and prevention – it’s brought together a wonderful community of people. We actually just held our second Overdose Awareness Day event, which was a huge success.
It’s inspiring that you’ve not only sought support, but have also created a support network for others. How has your lived experience with mental health influenced your career and education?
On the upside, my lived experience has allowed me to empathize with others that are on mental health journeys, or are experiencing trauma and grief. It’s also given me the passion to continue studying and pursuing a career in this field.
On the other hand, I’m constantly having to manage my own mental health and the triggers that come with the environment, and I always have to be mindful of my overall well being. Sometimes that means taking a breather from school or work, which unfortunately in my experience is not something that’s supported by most universities or employers. There’s a negative stigma around having gaps in your studies or career. That said, it’s made me realize how much I value my mental health and wellness, and how it always has to come first. It’s non-negotiable.
We’re truly inspired by how self-aware and ambitious you are. Speaking of your studies, can you share some of your educational or career goals?
I’ve completed my Bachelor of Arts in Social Work, but it’s left me with a very generalist skill set. That’s why I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Counselling Psychology.
I want to help fill the gap in our system that makes it difficult for individuals dealing with trauma to access specialized care – whether it’s due to financial or geographical barriers. Trauma affects all areas of mental health so if the proper support and resources aren’t readily available, there’s potential for more challenges to arise.
My long-term dream is to work at or own a treatment facility where people can rehabilitate with animals. Facilitated bonding can be beneficial to many areas of mental health, and the very things that animals find therapeutic are often the same for humans.
That’s so interesting! So what do you hope for on this journey? Do you have any advice you would like to share with individuals living with mental health?
I want to turn my challenges into something beneficial – for myself and for other individuals on mental health journeys too. One of the reasons I formed the peer support group is because I noticed that the more time I spent alone, the worse my mental health became.
It’s unfortunate how rarely we connect with or exchange stories with one another, particularly when it comes to mental health. I believe societal norms play a huge part in why people are fearful of judgment, which is why they would rather internalize the challenges they’re going through.
My advice to others is this – it’s OK to not be OK. Give yourself the opportunity for things to improve and know that you don’t have to go it alone. I understand that opening yourself up to others puts you in a vulnerable position, but trust me – it can be comforting, especially if it’s with people that you trust and feel safe with. Initially, I found it challenging to reach out to my network and ask for help, but once I considered the larger picture, it gave me the courage to speak up – and I’m so thankful that I did.
We’re privileged to know you, Stephanie. Consider yourself an extended member of the LGM family. We wish you much success, happiness, and good health. Congratulations again!