Recently, Ashley Cochrane was awarded the Dr. John Davis Burton Award for her outstanding contribution toward awareness, equality and integration of persons with disabilities.
Cochrane, who is pursuing her Masters in Social Work (MSW) at Carleton, has been working and volunteering with people with disabilities since she was 19.
Earlier this year, she participated in a panel on mental health for grade 11 and 12 students at a local high school, discussing signs, symptoms, resources and coping skills. “We wanted to challenge the stigma associated with mental health issues among youth,” says Cochrane.
She has helped students through an Ottawa agency that offers services to individuals with brain injuries.
While pursuing her undergrad degree at the University of Guelph in Psychology Co-op, she acted as a team leader and peer counsellor for the Student Support Network and Peer Counselling Drop-in Centre for three years.
Cochrane shares that she struggled with major depression for several years. “I know the pain and struggles well, very well, too well. No hope, no future. But I try not to assume that I get what another person is feeling or experiencing. I don’t have that right. I haven’t walked in their shoes. I only want to help and advocate for them in some way, whatever way that they want me to help them.”
The grad student is particularly thankful for support she has received from Prof. Abdel Elkchirid. “He’s been so supportive of my desire to dive into pretty complex issues around the services and treatment options needed for persons with brain injuries and developmental disabilities who face addiction. There just hasn’t been a lot of literature out there on the topic, so I’ve had to piece together a lot of information from different sources and disciplines to get a better picture of the needs, struggles and challenges faced by these populations.”
After she graduates, Cochrane hopes to continue her mental health advocacy work specifically with women who are living with mental health issues, developmental delays, brain injuries, addictions etc. She also wants to advocate for more income supports for people with disabilities. “The Ontario Disability Support Program does not offer enough,” says Cochrane.
A long-term goal is working in policy development around best practice standards when working with individuals who have complex needs (addictions, developmental disabilities and brain injuries).