First-ever “Elephant in the Music Room” held

Music students attempt to disassemble barriers around mental health

Music students gathered in the Brunton Auditorium last Saturday evening to discuss mental health on campus.
Hosted by the music society and Change Your Mind, a mental health initiative at Mount Allison, Elephant in the Music Room was developed in hopes of “breaking down the stigma around mental illness in the [music] department specifically,” said organizer Skylar Cameron.
“Every year during the end of October into November, there’s this time when music students get really stressed out. They get really down and out, and it’s because on top of our full course load we also are practising anywhere from two to six hours a day,” said Cameron. She believes this is partially due to the stigma around mental health and the fear of reaching out to friends and faculty.
The event was initially intended to be for music department students only, but after speaking with those involved, Cameron decided to open the event to all students. “We’re kind of in our own little section here; we don’t really leave the music building, so it was nice to break those barriers and merge music and non-music worlds.”
After discussing the idea with S.H.A.R.E. program coordinator Melody Petlock, Cameron ap-proached the campus mental-health educator Karen Geldart for support.
Geldart began the evening’s discussion with an overview of the issue of stigma as well as background on the “Elephant in the Room” initiative of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. It is a nationwide initiative which inspired Cameron to plan the event.
Mt. A’s Dr. Elizabeth Wells, head of the music department, took to the stage, speaking about famous composers like Carlo Gesualdo, Mozart, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky—all of whom struggled with mental illness. She suggested that creativity often goes hand in hand with mental illness, and that mental illness is much more common than many tend to think. This is especially true for musicians who may spend hours in isolation in order to meet practice requirements for their programs.
Dr. Wells’s presentation was followed by speeches from four music students who told of their experiences with mental illness. The students encouraged those listening not to define themselves by their mental illnesses and educated the audience about what mental illness is and isn’t. Each testimonial invoked an emotional response from the crowd, and the four students were applauded for their courage.
Karen Geldart recommended resources such as counselling at the Wellness Centre, Change Your Mind, and Daybreak, an external mental-health support group. She further encouraged students to learn how to incorporate self-care into daily life.
“[Mental illness] is the thing that we all know is there that we don’t talk about, that we’re scared of and that we stay away from,” said Cameron. She encouraged students to be okay with speaking to their professors and to not be afraid to reach out. One contributor, Emma Soldaat, offered that the more she talks about her mental illness, the more she meets people who say, “me too.”
The society has plans to offer mental-health meditations every week to provide support and mindfulness education to students.

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