Student-led mental health groups aim to break down stigma

Because finding a balance between schoolwork, employment and extracurricular activities can put a strain on students’ mental health, three student-led groups are doing their best to help. ACID, Change Your Mind and Jack.org create spaces for students to listen and talk about their respective experiences with mental health.

ACID is the Association of Chronically Ill and Disabled Students. It works to represent those students at Mt. A and make the campus more accessible.

Although ACID does not focus primarily on mental health, it does work to ensure that students with both physical and mental health issues are included in policy making, said Olivia Aurait, president and co-founder of ACID. Recently, ACID worked to include harassment against disabled students in university policy.

“For us it is much more about making sure people are included in policies,” Aurait said. “If you are going through a depressive episode, that should be treated in the same way as a flare-up of a physical illness.”

Puppy Love. Adrian Kiva/Argosy
Puppy Love. Adrian Kiva/Argosy

Aurait said ACID tries to address the disparity in the treatment of students who experience different illnesses. “That is really what we focus on: making sure that people are treated the same if they have a chronic illness, whether that is mental or physical,” she said.

ACID also advocates for improved services at Mt. A. “A lot of these things do go hand-in-hand. If you are physically disabled you are much more likely to have some kind of mental illness,” Aurait said.

Change Your Mind is a group whose mission is to transform the Mt. A campus into a welcoming space where community members can talk openly about mental health. They hope to facilitate discussions on the importance of mental health and what can be done to better address it at Mt. A.

“I see it as a student-led youth empowerment group on campus that relates to mental illness and stigma relating to that,” fourth-year student Jenna Speichts said.

Change Your Mind hosts a variety of events throughout the year. Last week, they hosted Elephant in the Room, a speaker series on mental health.

Change Your Mind offers dog therapy during the exam period. While students wait to see the dogs, they can relax in a stress-free zone where they can make stress balls and colour.

They also offer a peer support group. “In terms of getting help, that is how my journey started,” fourth-year student Bryaunna Williams said. “If I didn’t go to support group in third year, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Jack.org is a national network of students and young leaders that works to eradicate stigma and educate people about mental health. “We are really focused on educating people on what mental health is and how they can nurture it. That is what Jack.org is all about,” fourth-year student Shaelyn Sampson said.

Jack.org’s Mt. A chapter hosts an event every month. Last week, they put on event called Spooky Stigma. They had people talk to them about stigma, Sampson said, because they noticed that although people knew stigma was bad, they did not know how it functions.

“That is what we tried to educate people on…they can take the five-minute conversation that they had with us and hopefully learned something from, make the domino effect and translate that to somebody else,” Sampson said.

Some other events that Jack.org plans to host include a stress-free carnvial, a Giving Tuesday event, a paint night and perhaps a coffee house that will be co-hosted by Change Your Mind.

“We still have leaps and bounds to go before we can really fill the gap that is accessible mental health services to students,” Sampson said.

Kavana Wa Kilele