Roundtable discussions on mental health aim to end stigma

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Going to university should be monumental in a person’s life; for many students it’s a time of growth that involves heightened responsibilities. But, with the responsibility of a university education comes pressure and stress which can lead to mental health issues or worsen pre-existing mental illnesses.

Cindy Player, director of Human Rights at UVic, is one of the organizers behind a series of four roundtable discussions to help those with mental health issues and those who may develop them. These discussions look to help people open up and communicate, while also reducing the stigma of having a mental illness—an issue Player says some people suggest is worse than the illness itself.

But the illness and stigma are not just student issues. Player suggests the assumption on campus that mental health is strictly a student issue is another stigma.

“I think it’s quite a significant issue on campus, and I see it as an issue for students, and an issue for staff, and an issue for faculty. So the mental health task force which I’m chairing tries to address mental health as an issue for the entire UVic community.”

The first roundtable discussion, “Supporting Your Mental Health: Making Connections on Campus,” was held Oct. 6, and Player says it was a success.

“I think people got a lot out of the conversation. There was quite a good turnout. We did talk about things an individual can do, but we also talked about systemic-level issues as well, and the pressures that are on students, and if there’s ways to try and ameliorate those, and that reducing sort of stress and overwork and pressure can be very valuable for students that live with mental health issues. But it’s good for everybody too.”

The discussions are set up as roundtables so that all participants, those seeking help or information and experts, are interspersed to induce conversation. The experts at the first roundtable consisted of people from a wide variety of UVic’s faculties including Multifaith Services, the Faculty of Fine Arts, the Peer Helping program, the international student office, and Indigenous support, among others.

But these aren’t the only groups on campus looking to make a difference. Player says, “I know that student affairs has been working on a student mental health strategy. They’ve mapped what’s available for students and have identified some gaps and are proposing strategies to try and address those gaps.”

For those seeking mental health services, UVic provides a selection of resources. Player says there’s counselling, health services, and peer counselling. The mental health task force also organizes an information fair every two years called “Out of the Shadows and into the Sunshine,” which has received positive feedback from students who attended as well as those who manned tables.

The mental health resources and support that UVic provides are crucial to students’ success at UVic, says Player. “I think students that come into university with mental health issues have quite a high rate of dropping out. That mental health is sort of crucial to student success. I think it can be quite devastating for students, and the other issue is that the sort of age group of most university students is the age at which mental health difficulties often first manifest themselves. So it’s sort of a time in peoples lives when things may arise around mental health issues.”

Player says it’s important that students don’t ignore an existing mental health issue, and instead take advantage of the resources available, or at least be familiar with them in case they need them in the future.

The second roundtable event and last of this term, “Breaking the Silence: Starting Conversations about Mental Illness,” will be Nov. 6, from 12–1:30 p.m. in the Engineering Graduate Lounge (ECS 660).

It will focus on creating a more open discussion of mental illness which Player suggests has changed in a positive direction. However, the stigma still exists and Player says she would like to get rid of it, “so that people who have a mental illness can seek help and talk about it in the same way people might talk about other physical illness and not feel like it’s something that they need to hide.”

Next term, the final two roundtables, “Indigenous Understandings of Mental Health” Jan. 29 12–1:30 p.m, which focuses on an Indigenous point of view of mental health and “Substance Use” Feb. 26 12–1:30 p.m. which focuses on substance abuse as both a mental illness and a coping mechanism as a result of mental illness, will take place in the Engineering Graduate Lounge (ECS 660).