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  • Writer's pictureKristin Guglietti

Connor McKemey talks mental health to SJA students

Kristin Guglietti/THG Connor McKemey (center) with St. Joseph Academy lacrosse players and SJA Head of Communications Bryce Young (far right) and Sandy Wechsler (far left) of the Tyler Wechsler Foundation.

Connor McKemey, a burn survivor, gave a presentation called M.A.C. Mentality Thrive Against Adversity and talked about mental health to St. Joseph Academy (SJA) students on Nov. 1 at St. Joseph Academy.

SJA Head of Communications Bryce Young met McKemey back in 2020 and spoke about the Tyler Wechsler Foundation before introducing McKemey.

“My family started a foundation called the Tyler Wechsler Foundation back in 2017 after we lost my cousin. He lost his battle with mental health,” Young said.

Young’s cousin killed himself at the age of 21.

“He was fighting battles inside that we couldn’t see. He was fighting battles that he needed help with, but didn’t know how to reach out,” Young said.

Young told students that they have resources for help.

“You have friends. You have family members. You have administration here at St. Joe that care about you that are here to listen. If you take one thing out of today, then that’s what I hope you take away from today,” Young said.

McKemey then introduced himself and shared some national statistics.

According to the statistics McKemey shared, one in six adolescents aged 12-17 in the U.S.

experienced a major depressive episode, three million adolescents had serious thoughts of suicide and there was a 31 percent increase in mental health-related emergency department visits for adolescents.

One in three young adults aged 18-25 in the U.S. experienced a mental illness, one in 10 young adults experienced a serious mental illness and 3.8 million young adults had serious thoughts of suicide.

One in five young people report that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health. One in 10 people under the age of 18 experience a mental health condition following a COVID-19 diagnosis.

“One in five of every single kid I have talked to or of those 500 that have responded to our survey stated that their mental health is a struggle,” McKemey said.

He said everyone in the room is fighting some kind of battle and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

When McKemey was in 8th grade in 2008, he was living a normal life playing football, basketball and lacrosse.

The last lacrosse game he played before his accident was one he didn’t care for. It was a rainy and cold day in December, and he was waiting to go home.

“Don’t take those little things for granted,” McKemey said.

While getting ready for a date, young McKemey had the idea to start a fire, so they could enjoy smores later.

“I’m struggling, struggling, struggling. I go in and tell Mom, ‘Listen, I can’t get this to light.’ I’m getting really frustrated. The girl’s on her way. I’m rushing and rushing. I’m like alright look let me try one more time. I go back inside. I’m rushing and rushing and before I know it, it’s just a bang, an explosion, a force that hit me,” McKemey said.

The first thing he sees when he opened his eyes were his hands.

“The first thing I see when I opened my eyes are my hands. My shirt was completely gone. My skin was black and charcoal,” McKemey said.

McKemey could have lived his life feeling sorry for himself, but instead he chose to appreciate the life he has.

“Although it looked a lot different, felt a lot different, and I knew it was going to be a lot different, I still at least had a life. Each and every single one of you still have a life and that life is worth living,” McKemey said.

At the hospital, 90 percent of McKemey’s body was burned, 75 percent were third-degree burns and he was given a one percent chance of survival.

Doctors told McKemey he wouldn’t walk again or play sports again. Two years after his accident, he helped his team win a state championship.

McKemey was able to walk and play sports again and he did it with a smile.

“This kid right here was still not where he needed to be, but I knew how much it meant to my mom, to my friends, to my family, to put on that smile,” McKemey said.

McKemey explained M.A.C. Mentality to the St. Joseph Academy students. The “M” stands for motivation, the driving force behind human actions. The “A” stands for attitude, a feeling or opinion about something. The “C” stands for courage, the mental strength to persevere and withstand fear or adversity.

“We need courage in our lives not just to be able to handle it but be able to understand like, ‘Look I can walk hand in hand with that fear, that doubt, that anxiety, that depression that I have and know that I can get to the other side because I got people around me,’” McKemey said.

McKemey said he was able to fight his internal battles by having the support of the people in his life who care about him.

For more information about McKemey follow him on social media @mac_mentality. McKemey wrote a book called Life Ignited: A Hopeful Journey Sparked by Fire, which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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