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Fire Away: Breaking Down the Stigmas of Mental Health Challenges

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

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Written by Stephanie Rennie

In April 2007, I lost a dear friend that suffered with mental health challenges for a large portion of her life. This experience, alongside many other glimpses into the rising concerns of mental health, opened my eyes to the prevalence of such difficulties as well as the unfortunate stigmas that surround them. In honour of Mental Health Awareness day on March 8th, I hope to shed light on some of these concerns that are affecting so many people around us.

The current stigma around mental health challenges is prevalent as many people are uncomfortable discussing what is going on inside their heads. It seems that most people will openly discuss physical ailments, but a majority are not confident in addressing mental health concerns. Shannon Stach of the 1 in 5 committee stated that “as much as you have a broken leg and need to put a cast on it… with mental health you also need proper support.” The 1 in 5 initiative estimated that 4500 students on the University of Guelph campus are affected by a mental health challenge. This imperative group on campus developed its name from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s statistic stating that 1 in 5 Canadians will be affected by a mental health challenge in any given year.

Members of the 1 in 5 committee addressed the many factors contributing to mental health challenges. There are a wide range of aspects including: genetics, life experiences, environment, personal relationships, family environment, support (or lack of), and many other crucial factors. Although the statistics for those affected by mental health challenges may seem overwhelming, there are many initiatives that can be taken to assist with such challenges. Shannon Stach exclaimed that the biggest preventative measure is early intervention. She also expressed the need for people to increase self awareness, promote self care, and create healthy coping mechanisms.

In terms of student life, it is easy to see how mental health challenges can emerge with such tedious and stressful workloads and a tense environment. Stach urges students to “do whatever your passion is for an hour a day.” Furthermore, 1 in 5 committee member Brittany Moor conveyed that students often put time for self care on the back burner. It is as simple as not eating lunch at your desk while working, taking a moment for self reflection, and even taking a deep breath once in a while.

Eve Lampert, another member of the 1 in 5 committee, emphasized education as being a very important aspect of confronting the stigmas around mental health. The members of the 1 in 5 campaign have been busy developing events that will tackle stigmas and promote awareness. In honour of Mental Health Awareness day on Thursday March 8th, there will be a panel discussion held in Rozanski 103 at 5:30pm. The panel is comprised of students that have experienced a mental health challenge, a psychiatrist, and Eric Windeler, founder of The Jack Project at Kids Help Phone. Another unique and informative event taking place in light of mental health awareness is being held on March 25th at War Memorial Hall. This event will begin with music by Noah Gundersen, followed by a conversation led by To Write Love On Her Arms founder Jamie Tworkowski on issues including self injury. One of the event coordinators, Ian Sinclair, describes these two events as being “the book ends of March” to raise awareness of mental health challenges.

On top of these initiatives to promote awareness of mental health, many resources exist on and off campus to provide people with support. These services include: Counselling Services through the University of Guelph, Student Support Network, The Wellness Centre, Trellis and Homewood Health Centre.

No matter how high the stack of library books or how few hours are left until your exam, take time for self reflection and for a much-needed deep breath. 

Stephanie Rennie is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Fire Away publishes every Thursday in The Cannon and in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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