UVic club out to end the stigma around mental health

You are not alone — that is what the UVic Mental Health Awareness Club wants to let you know, especially when you seek help.

“It can be fairly intimidating to go to the counselling services for the first time; even if you go into the University Centre to find the counselling services, there’s not clear signage,” says Julia Denley, the President of the Mental Health Awareness Club.

“It puts people in this position of being anxious, because now they have to go ask someone, and maybe they don’t feel comfortable asking that.”

According to the National College Health Assessment, a new national survey of colleges and universities, mental health conditions are rising among postsecondary students: nearly one in five students are depressed, anxious or are dealing with some sort of mental illness. Having a club that wants to end the stigma around mental health on campus, and promote conversation, is crucial to addressing and lowering that frightening statistic.

UVic’s Mental Health Awareness Club was founded in January 2015, and even in its short existence has received the BIRT Special Project Grant of $520 — the highest amount of funding the UVic administration can give to a club.

The club has shifted its focus from awareness around mental health to the promotion of vocalizing and socializing it; encouraging people struggling with mental health to talk about their inner demons.

“I think when we were starting, we were thinking of just the educational and awareness side, but there’s a lot of people who wanted social support,” Denley said.

A key example of this social growth is the Conversation Cafe, the backbone of the Mental Health Awareness Club and a major initiative to promote communication.

The club runs a two-to-three-hour event at Hillside Coffee and Tea shop in order to get people dealing with mental health disorders in the same room and talking together.

However, the main focus of the Conversation Cafe is not about forcing people to talk about their problems like they would to a therapist at a counselling session. It is more about taking your mind off of your daily stressors and enjoying playing games or singing along to an open mic for a night.

“Not even having official peer support, but just hang[ing] out in social situations if you’re dealing with social anxiety—that’s how we started the Conversation Cafe,” says Denley. “There is a bunch of tables spread out with fidgets, bubblewrap, colouring [sheets], or board games. And there are two open mic sessions in the evening.”

The Conversation Cafes run once a month, on a Saturday evening, with the next one coming on Nov. 4.

“I realized how important the club was at our second Conversation Cafe,” says Joy Lambright, a club member, recalling another club member at the cafe telling her about their mental health experience.

“The fact that we have such an open, safe, and non-judgemental space was so important to that. I had chills after, because you know that the work we are doing is meaningful, not just for us but to other people.”

The UVic Mental Health Awareness Club is in the middle of creating their website to make counselling services more accessible on- and off-campus.

Soon enough, thanks in part to these initiatives from the UVic Mental Health Club, talking about mental health issues will be something we are all more comfortable doing.

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