Breaking the taboos of mental health

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UVic celebrated the launch of the Student Mental Health Strategy (SMHS) on Oct. 22 with a presentation featuring TEDx sensation Mark Henick. As the youngest member of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and a national youth advocate for mental health and empowerment, Henick’s personal experiences revealed why projects like this one are so important for fighting the stigmas surrounding mental health issues.

According to UVic president Jamie Cassels, the SMHS is “an open recognition of the challenges that students face and how widespread mental health challenges are.” The three-year strategy includes a variety of initiatives focused on reducing the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues, and building a welcoming and supportive university community.

“We want to have the most diverse, welcoming, and supportive community we possibly can,” said Cassels. “That’s our mission because that supports student learning. Both physical health and mental health are absolutely critical foundations for student success.”

The first four initiatives of the SMHS are being launched immediately. UVic has established a user-friendly Student Mental Health website, which provides information for students, faculty and staff, and family members.

UVic has also launched a campus-wide training program for faculty and staff to enhance awareness about the signs of mental distress and how to properly support and refer students to campus resources. In this vein, an “Assisting Students in Distress” folder has been compiled with quick tips and resources for students at risk.

“It’s actually a really incredible thing that UVic is doing, promoting and putting a focus on mental health,” said Kimiya Missaghi, a third-year psychology major and volunteer Peer Helper for the Mental Health Strategy. “This strategy focuses not only on the day-to-day aspects of mental health, but how our campus [can] better support us and all these different aspects.”

Though much of Henick’s presentation dealt with the heavier side of mental health, such as severe depression and suicide, the SMHS aims to ease student anxieties on a broad scale. “Just opening up and talking to one another about mental health will help [with issues] right across the spectrum,” said Cassels.

“Something I really like about [this initiative] is they’re really trying to better engage students to be a part of their own mental health on campus,” said Missaghi, referring to the Student Mental Health activity grants, which have been established to encourage student-led mental health initiatives. “It’s really cool to see how the University of Victoria is actually trying to promote and empower students to better the well-being [of students].”

According to Henick, UVic is on the leading edge of campus mental health: “When I was involved with campus mental health from 2005 to 2010 or so, a lot of this stuff really wasn’t happening,” he said. “What UVic is doing by having a campus mental health strategy and by participating in a framework whereby other universities can have that strategy too, [is] bringing together resources and people who have always been there, but have always been doing their own thing.”

“It’s so exciting to see because I’ve been involved in this for my entire adult life, and part of my childhood life too, and I’ve never really seen it happening like this before,” he said.

 

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