The University of Calgary will host its first Mental Health Awareness Week from October 29 to November 2 to tackle mental health stigma, create discussion and raise awareness.
Mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder, among others. According to Statistics Canada, people aged 15–24 experience the highest incidence of mental illness. One in five Canadians will experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life and only 50 per cent of those affected seek help, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
MHAW will have a variety of events, including a services fair, a suicide prevention workshop, a film screening and a collaborative art project. There will be a focus on mental health services available, and how to help yourself and others who are impacted by mental illness.
U of C Faith and Spirituality Centre coordinator Adriana Tulissi said many groups on campus came together to plan MHAW, including the SU, the SU Wellness Centre, the Women’s Resource Centre and U of C clubs.
“We saw a lot of potential with raising awareness, building resiliency and reducing the stigma with regards to mental illness and mental health concerns,” said Tulissi.
Tulissi said the biggest issue with the public knowledge of mental illnesses is misinformation.
“I think a big issue is the stigma surrounding mental illness. A lot of students are uncomfortable seeking help and uncomfortable talking about it,” she said. “Often times, mental illness is seen as a weakness and people feel something may be wrong with them. Building awareness and discussion are opportunities to ensure students get the help they need and let students know there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.”
SU vice-president student life Hayley Wade has been a part of planning MHAW. She said the stresses of balancing school and personal life can also present mental health issues and people need to be encouraged to seek help.
“Mental health impacts all students in one way or another, whether it be stress for upcoming exams or a mental health disorder. It touches everybody,” said Wade. “It is important to be a part of raising awareness and making sure students know there are resources available.”
Wade said there are many services at the U of C that students can take advantage of to maintain their mental health, such as the SU Wellness Centre, the Faith and Spirituality Centre, the Students-at-Risk team and the Women’s Resource Centre.
“There are tons of opportunities and resources out there for students,” said Wade.
Student Advocates for Mental Health is a U of C club that is focused on increasing mental health awareness. They have created a video inspiring students to get involved with MHAW by wearing purple on October 29, the first day of the events. The initiative is called Project Purple and has found success raising awareness about mental health at other Canadian universities.
According to fourth-year psychology student and president of SAMH Chelsea Humphry, these initiatives are concrete ways to get involved.
“Hopefully, by seeing the video, people can be encouraged to look for help,” said Humphry “We thought a good way to do it was to do something visible, something that is more tangible and have as many people as possible wear purple on [October 29].”
Humphry said students are not alone, and a space to discuss mental health is needed.
“We are in desperate need of changing the culture surrounding mental health issues. Right now, we live in a society where it is not socially acceptable to talk about these issues. We need to create an environment where discussion is okay and people affected by mental issues are supported,” said Humphry.