Scholarship to support study of therapeutic recreation’s role in living well with mental illness

Brock University graduate students studying how free-time activities help people cope with mental health issues will soon get a boost thanks to a scholarship established by retiring faculty member Colleen Hood.

The Professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies has spent the past two decades researching and writing on trauma-informed practice. Her work’s focus has been on redefining therapeutic recreation to shift away from resolving people’s problems towards building people’s skills, strengths and capacities in leisure activities so they can live well with disability or mental illness and construct a life that still has meaning, pleasure and engagement.

“I’m just so passionate about that,” Hood said. “I think this is where our field should be going — helping people remember they are so much more than whatever their illness or disability is.”

Hood’s personal experiences with trauma, loss and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have influenced her professional work in therapeutic recreation and inspired her to support the next generation of mental health researchers and practitioners.

Portrait of Madeline Hood from 2011, the late daughter of Colleen Hood.

The Madeline Hood Memorial Scholarship was named in memory of Maddie Hood. Photo taken in 2011.

She tragically lost her daughter in 2012 at the age of 19.

“After Maddie was murdered, I felt shattered,” Hood said. “I still feel there’s a very clear demarcation in who I was before that event and who I am after that event. And what I found in interacting with people with mental illnesses is that they feel the same.”

In the months after her daughter’s death, Hood returned to leisure activities she once enjoyed, such as knitting, playing the piano, spending time with her dogs and walking, to help manage the anxiety and post-traumatic stress she experienced because of her trauma and loss.

“In hindsight, I think leisure kind of saved me in some ways,” she said. “I have many things that define me beyond my anxiety and PTSD, and I think people with mental illness lose sight of that. In the system, you are the illness and nothing else. But in my leisure, in my free time, I can pick activities to help me be my best self and start to feel like a whole person.”

Hood’s commitment to making a difference in her field of study was recently recognized with three prestigious awards. She is the 2022 recipient of the Leisure Scholar Award from the Canadian Association for Leisure Studies. The honour, to be presented next week, recognizes significant and unique contributions to the field of leisure studies and notable impact on the scholarly community. Hood was also recently honoured by the Canadian Therapeutic Recreation Association, which presented her with the 2023 Gonzaga da Gama Memorial Award in recognition of her lifetime body of work and her service and contributions to her field. Last month, Hood received an Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance Teaching Award of Excellence, an award initiated by undergraduate students who were impacted by her engagement with teaching.

As Hood reflects on her career and prepares for retirement at the end of June, she hopes the Madeline Hood Scholarship she is creating will help continue her legacy in mental health research while also honouring her late daughter’s passion for social justice and helping others.

“Maddie wanted to make the world better for people who had less than others and who were marginalized in some ways,” said Hood. “I want Maddie’s legacy of service to people who need supports to continue. As a bereaved mother, I want Maddie’s life to continue to matter, because even though it ended at age 19, I think her life would have made a tremendous difference in the world.

“The scholarship is a beautiful marriage of my interests and my experience in the aftermath of losing her, and Maddie’s experience and her identity as a human being.”

The Madeline Hood Memorial Scholarship will be presented annually to one Brock graduate student who demonstrates academic excellence and/or experience in the areas of leisure and living well with mental illness. The recipient’s research must also reflect this focus, and preference will be given to graduate students in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.

Read more about Hood and her daughter in an article recently published in The St. Catharines Standard, “A Niagara mother’s loss: Living with the broken pieces.”

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