(Helen Thai of Stittsville received a McCall MacBain Scholarship enabling her to continue in her studies in Mental Health.)
In September of 2020, Helen Thai – a Carleton University graduate with bachelor’s degrees in both Commerce and Psychology – joined a pool of 735 Canadian university students applying for the McCall MacBain Scholarship. Resulting from a historic gift of $200 million to McGill University, the McCall MacBain Scholarships at McGill were established in 2019. The goal of the scholarships is to “provide students with the mentorship, interdisciplinary learning, and global community they need to accelerate their impact on the world.”
From the 735 applicants, 132 were invited to participate in regional interviews. The next step involved final interviews of 50 finalists. From these interviews, the 130 Canadian leaders who volunteered to help in the selection process decided on the 20 students who would become the inaugural class of McCall MacBain Scholars.
Helen Thai, of Stittsville, was fortunate enough to be among the twenty students chosen based on their character, community engagement, leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, academic strength, and intellectual curiosity. On the months-long application process, Helen says: “The interview process consisted of conversations with a diverse group of Canadian leaders across the country, which alone was a humbling opportunity for me to personally reflect on pivotal life experiences, values, goals, and my future. Approaching final interviews, the Foundation put together a variety of sessions that allowed finalists to connect with knowledgeable faculty and community members, such as Josephine Nalbantoglu (McGill University’s Dean of Graduate Studies), Suzanne Fortier (Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University), Valérie Plante (Mayor of Montreal), and John and Marcy McCall MacBain (Co-Founders of the McCall MacBain Foundation). Overall, the application process was invaluable and played a significant role in my decision to pursue graduate studies at McGill University.”
Helen admits that she discovered the McCall MacBain Scholarship unintentionally, stumbling upon it as she was looking into the application process for graduate studies at a different university. She became interested in the incredible scholarship, until she noticed the deadline for applications was only one week away. This caused hesitation in Helen, which thankfully she overcame. “In addition to the tight deadline, I think my hesitation, in part, came from a place of self-doubt and a deep fear of rejection. However, what I told myself was that although I do not have control over the outcome of my application, I do have control over submitting it. I think for many people the greatest obstacle to applying to something of this caliber is self-doubt, but the reality is that these opportunities are already limited, so we should not limit ourselves further.”
It’s no wonder Helen was selected for this prestigious scholarship. Her work in mental health advocacy is truly admirable. Beginning with a practicum placement at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre in the Schizophrenia Recovery Program, Helen has expanded her involvement in various other spaces at The Royal. “Currently, I am the youngest member on the Client Advisory Council, wherein I work in collaboration with health professionals and clinicians to foster a more humanized healthcare system by placing the recovery of clients at the center of service quality and delivery. My role on the council has granted me with numerous meaningful opportunities, such as co-designing a self-medication program with the pharmacy team that allows clients to self-administer their prescribed medication, reviewing and evaluating nominated staff for internal awards based on elements of the organization’s strategic plan, and participating in the accreditation process to evaluate services/programs against national standards of excellence. Additionally, I serve on the Research Ethics Board, wherein I review and assess the ethical implications of proposed research studies at The Royal. I am also a Research Assistant in the Schizophrenia Recovery Program, which is where my interest in intervention science and participatory-action research evolved.”
In addition to all that she does at The Royal, Helen serves as Student Representative in the Community Section at the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). In this role, she offers a student perspective during executive meetings and initiatives. “Since joining the CPA in the summer, I have had the honour of working with a group of researchers, practitioners, trainees, and community members to develop different opportunities (e.g., awards, honorariums) to help provide underrepresented students with tangible means to advance their research potential and to showcase their impact within the community.”
“Altogether, I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved within the community at both a local and national scale, and, truthfully, I received more than I gave in these roles.” Helen states regarding the many different responsibilities she has taken on as she continues to advocate for mental health.
With the help of the McCall MacBain Scholarship, Helen will complete her master’s at McGill University where she will “be working with a dynamic trio of supervisors examining motivation for recovery and treatment-seeking behaviors among those with lived experience of psychosis. My collective experience in clinical and research settings have highlighted reoccurring client challenges and understudied areas of research. It is not surprising to acknowledge that the mental healthcare system is overburdened, leaving many, who are in need of care, untreated. Despite the significant disparity between the supply and demand for individuals living with psychosis waiting for treatment, and the existence of evidence-based interventions, attrition is alarmingly common for those who have access to care. This observation led me to recognize the potentially crucial role that motivation might play as a source of variance in adherence to treatment and recovery. I am particularly excited to delve into this area of research because it is multidisciplinary and merges knowledge from the fields of positive, clinical, and social psychology. Using the Self-Determination Theory as a guiding framework, my hope in conducting this research is to weave together the realities of the human condition and apply it to a clinical setting in order to cultivate meaningful client recovery.”
Helen’s long-term career goal is to become a Clinical Psychologist. As she witnesses the research process and all that it entails and provides, Helen recognizes that “the best care a clinician can provide is one that is evidence-based.” After completing her Masters, Helen will pursue her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, also at McGill University. She has no doubt that she will continue to incorporate the research she does as she continues training to reach her goal.
When asked to briefly summarize her beliefs regarding mental health advocacy, Helen provided an incredibly poignant answer which truly highlights her passion. “In its simplest form, I believe that no human experience is one without suffering, but many people with lived experience of either mental health challenges or mental illness suffer in silence due to external/internal stigma, limited resources or access to care, language barriers, lack of social support, or sometimes even denial. At this point in my life, I feel I have obtained the freedom to try and make a difference in public awareness and clinical practice because I am mindful of the fact that the hopelessness of suffering alone can be lethal.”
Helen will begin the pursuit of her Master of Science in Clinical Psychology this September, one year after first applying for the McCall MacBain Scholarship.