Bringing mental health to light: Info fair aims to raise awareness, decrease stigma

Campus News

NEW_cindy player2_Nikki Koutsochilis_webThe Equity and Human Rights office, the Mental Health Task Force, and the University of Victoria Students’ Society will be collaborating for “Out of the Shadows and into the Sunshine,” a mental health information fair happening Oct. 8 in the Michéle Pujol Room of the SUB, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) will be sponsoring the event as part of “Beyond the Blues,” their annual public awareness campaign held during Mental Illness Awareness Week. The CMHA website states that these events “help people learn the signs of depression and anxiety, and issues like mania, suicide and risky drinking,” and advises attendees about when and how to get help.

Cindy Player, director of UVic’s Equity and Human Rights office and chair for the Mental Health Task Force, established the fair in 2009. The purpose of the event is to “break down the stigma [surrounding] mental illness and provide opportunities for people to talk about it,” said Player, who also noted her own experience with mental illness. “It’s important for me to change the way people view mental illness.”

UVSS Chairperson Kayleigh Erickson, who is leading mental health initiatives for the UVSS, agrees.

“I’m hoping students learn information they didn’t know before, and to continue [developing] their understanding of mental health—from what I’m hearing, people have a very narrow view of what mental health is,” she said.

The fair will host about 40 different agencies that address mental health in varying capacities, including advocacy groups, service providers, and community agencies. Forms will be available to screen for depression, anxiety, and risky drinking. Volunteers and counsellors will be available to discuss test results by providing information or directing people to appropriate resources.

Nursing student Alina Scott will be helping people fill out the forms during the event. Scott tried filling out the screening forms personally to familiarize herself with the process.

“They are easy to fill out, clear, with yes and no responses and rating scales,” Scott laughed, “so there’s no excuse for anyone not to fill them out.”

Scott was surprised after she filled out the screening forms; her test results for anxiety were high, which she admitted was a shock. “I didn’t think about it because I am student—I am always anxious.” Co-ordinating school demands and a personal life can easily result in stress. “We equate these [anxieties as being] normal for a student,” she said.

The expectations surrounding student life and personal goals, and worries about finances and careers can be distressing; it’s easy to overlook our own well-being. Scott said, “We do need to look after [mental health]—as students we need to think about it.”