Odion Welch‘s wand bubbly personality can put anyone at ease. It’s a strength she gained, in part, from having endured more than her fair share of adversity. Growing up in 1990s Edmonton as the mixed-race daughter of a single-parent immigrant mother, she navigated uncertainty throughout her youth, moving between low-income housing units while surviving on social assistance, even experiencing homelessness at times.
“In a way, it helped me to become more empathetic,” she says. “I’ve always been able to look at a situation from every angle, to try and understand how it affects different people in different ways, and I think that’s why.”
As she grew, Welch began to understand the importance of mental health in her overall well-being, eventually coming to terms with her own battles with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Along the way, she realized she wasn’t alone. She shared her story in her first book, Breakthrough: A Courageous True Story of Overcoming Depression and Anxiety, in hopes that it would open up conversations around mental health and inspire others to make positive changes.
“I want to be the support — and help people find the support — that I didn’t have when I was growing up,” she says. Today, as a mental health youth coordinator at the Africa Centre, Welch continues to tap into her own experiences and background to better serve the community. In 2020, she helped to develop a Black-focused counselling program, which offers free, short-term services.
“I like to stress that although the program is Black-focused, it’s not solely for the Black community. The therapists we work with are all Black, and we may have a better understanding of the barriers that are faced by many members of the BIMPOC community in accessing these services,” she says. “But, ultimately, we just want to reduce barriers and make these services accessible to anyone who needs them.”
Since its launch in November 2020, the program has helped more than 250 Edmontonians access support. Although the program is currently only offered on a part-time basis, Welch sees it as a great sign of prog- ress in the journey towards creating greater mental health care for all.
“It’s empowering to know that I can be the change and be the support that people need. I want to help break those glass ceilings and show that it is possible, that people can overcome depression, and that it does get better,” she says.