Acadia grad Junior Moaku advocates for physical, mental well-being
Recent business graduate, former Axemen basketball player and founder of ‘Save Me Save We’, Junior Moaku (’19) has been using his time in isolation during the pandemic to offer mental health support. Learn more about him and ‘Save Me Save We’ in this conversation with Wendy Elliott (’75).
Please tell me how you would advise people, especially young adults, to hang onto their mental health right now. The days and nights get blurred.
"The way I advise young adults is the same as I advise everyone because no one is immune to the emotions and the feelings isolation has been creating. However, some people are less affected because they've created and practiced a strong personal wellness plan well before the pandemic broke out. The good news is that starting one is very easy and will better people's physical and mental well-being.
In short, I advise people to plan their day and create a to-do list. Whether it is reading, going on a walk, cooking a meal, cleaning the house: whatever it is, planning your day creates a sense of order and holds you accountable to accomplishing tasks. I also recommend people to take mental breaks; I advise people to stay away from consuming too much social media and news content.
Nutrition and fitness play a huge role in our health. There is such a thing as ‘Food-Mood Connection’ and I emphasize the need for people to not only consume the right food, but to also remain active in their homes or outside by respecting the social distancing rules.
I advise people to take on a new hobby, a new skill, or a language. A big part of personal development is the feeling of growth, and seeking out a new challenge and working toward accomplishment will give you just that.
Lastly, socializing. Someone reminded me earlier this month that nobody ever gets depressed from giving. Giving a family member or a friend a call will bring you and them joy knowing that you are thinking of them and caring for their health! I have been taking the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and it has been alleviating the feelings of distance and disconnect I once felt at the beginning of this all.
Sorry, this was a very long answer, but there are no shortcuts to being mentally healthy, especially in isolation!"
I hear people who are in isolation say they are worried they’ll tip over into a state of anxiety and depression. How do you keep your focus?
"That's a good question because they say, on average, we have about 48 thoughts per minute and if most of those are negative and destructive, people will quickly start feeling anxiety and agitation. Personally, how I keep my focus is by being aware and controlling my train of thought. If I jump on the wrong train and stay on it long enough it can lead me to the wrong destinations; like unproductive, ruminative and self-deprecating places. So whenever I feel overwhelmed, I start playing joyful music, I take some deep breaths, go for a walk, get some fresh air, but I don't do that as a distraction – I do it to regain control of my thoughts. Practicing conscious awareness is important."
This is a situation that the world hasn’t experienced since 1918, so do you think the discipline that athletes have will help them to ‘stay the blazes home’?
"I can't speak for all of us, but I definitely think most athletes are struggling with confinement and the lack of resources available to stay in shape or practice their sport. But I know the commitment and discipline we've built helps us stay home and follow the social distancing rules. Also, we've had to learn to respect and follow the rules of our coaches and authority figures and so we understand the weight of the words the Premier and Prime Minister share with us daily. I also think sports help us understand that a win is a team effort, and we know that in order to get through these time, it will be a team effort and we are just simply playing our part."
Returning to campus
Based now out of Halifax, Junior didn’t think he’d return to campus so quickly after graduating, but he couldn’t turn down an opportunity this past winter.
He had an appreciative crowd when he came to discuss his own journey and the creation of a supportive community for mental health advocates and survivors.
The 2019 graduate is employed as a training developer at the Nova Scotia Career Development Association in Bedford. As an entrepreneur and a mental health advocate, he wanted to share his experience.
While Junior was a varsity basketball athlete, he noted that some of his teammates and fellow classmates were struggling with mental health issues. Having come to Acadia from Hamilton, Ontario, he had grown up with friends and family members affected by mental health issues and recognized some of the symptoms.
Founding ‘Save Me Save We’ in the spring of 2018, his aim was to help students look out for each other. In a society where the stigma around mental health creates a barrier to communication, Junior saw that his peers did not feel able to reveal their poor mental health. He envisioned a network of approachable advocates.
That fall, Junior began selling ‘Save Me Save We’ T-shirts with the logo of a brain inside a heart as a symbol for mental well-being. A percentage from every sale goes to supporting mental health initiatives in Nova Scotia, such as the Kings County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
It was just last spring that Junior canvassed Wolfville-area businesses and families for food and cash donations for about a week. That allowed him and a group of volunteers to stage the first Save Me Save We Easter Feast. Held at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market, close to 100 community members enjoyed a free dinner put on by the community for the community. All of the proceeds went to support the Open Arms Centre in Kentville.
Since more than 6.7 million Canadians will experience a mental illness during an average year, Junior was keen to increase community mental health literacy through an evidence-based emotional first-aid program on behalf of elementary and high schools students. He created ‘Outloud,’ a heartfelt web series where several individuals discuss their quality of life since being impacted by a mental illness.
Having worked as a camp counselor one summer, he had noted children with anger issues. Seeing their loneliness, Junior realized that they were actually pushing other kids away and needed ‘emotional first-aid tools.’ This involves teaching kids the difference between daily stress and chronic stress, and between being alone and loneliness, for example. The purpose is to teach them how to better recognize and manage mental health concerns later in life.
“If they can help themselves, they can help others, which is even better,” Junior says.
Save Me Save We is on a mission to increase communities’ mental health literacy through an evidence-based program that will provide emotional first-aid tools. For more, please visit: https://savemesavewe.com/
Junior connected with a wide variety of Wolfville-area residents, including Horton High School basketball player Rory Hennessy. Naturally, they met at the gym.
Rory, whose father is School of Music professor Dr. Jeff Hennessy, recognized Junior immediately. They chatted and the 6'6" wing player agreed to help Rory with his training.
Before long, and undaunted by a 6 a.m. schedule, Rory and two or three of his fellow Horton players learned how to swing between positions from the Acadia forward.
The Grade 10 player remembers Junior as an inspiring and athletically talented guy. Rory says he also learned life skills, due to the way Junior demonstrated the need for detail and precision.
“His approach made us better basketball players, but what he taught us also applied to life off the court,” Rory noted. “I’m glad we keep in touch.”
The whole Hennessy family volunteered for the Save Me Save We dinner last spring. “It was pretty special,” Rory adds, “and it was a great meal.”
Written by Wendy Elliott ('75)