Talk about mental health for 365 days, not just one

Last week was focused on the conversation of mental health for Bell Let’s Talk. However, this cannot just be a conversation that occurs once a year. It needs to be a relentless initiative rooted in the obligation we have to destigmatize mental illness.

On Jan. 31, the Health Matters Society and Mt. A Student-Athlete Mental Health Initiative organized a panel discussion on mental health that was held in the Wu Centre on campus. The panel consisted of Olivia Adams, a student-athlete and vice-president of communication of Jack.org Mt. A; Maggie MacNeil, a student-athlete and assistant don of Campbell Hall; Alanna Stewart, co-lead of Jack.org Mt. A; Dr. Gene Ouellette, the Mt. A women’s soccer coach and a psychology professor; and Melissa Currie, a counsellor at the Wellness Centre. Together, the panelists and audience addressed topics including the importance of mental health, mental illness stereotypes and how we can positively affect our mental health.

Although it was not affiliated with Bell Let’s Talk, the event was inspired by what that day represents: starting a conversation. A theme that emerged from the event was the notion that so much more needs to be done beyond one day every year. “While we are doing a great job of talking about anxiety and depression,” said Adams, “we need to move the conversation forward to reduce the stigma around other forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, PTSD and bulimia. We also need to talk about marginalization and criminalization of mental illness in society, and how to reduce this.”

As well as the challenges that arise from disorders, those who deal with mental illness also have to face the prejudices and misconceptions so many people still have regarding mental illness. The panel discussion allowed for constructive conversation about these issues. “It is important to continue the discussion on mental health, and having events like the panel discussion are a great platform for engaging others,” noted MacNeil.

According to a study on the impact of stigma on individuals with mental illness published in World Psychiatry, there are three effective strategies for changing public stigma: protest, education and contact. Protesting involves challenging the media and public to stop reporting and believing inaccurate representations of mental illness. Education programs focused on mental illness have been found to improve understanding and attitudes about individuals who struggle with these problems. Also, research has demonstrated that having contact with a person with mental illness produces changed attitudes that, in turn, can greatly reduce stigma.

Kathleen Morrison