From November 13th-16th, Brandon University held its first Mental Health Awareness Week. The week was aimed at raising awareness and reducing stigma associated with mental health issues. You will notice that we focused on mental health rather than mental illness, as mental health is something that touches everyone, not only the twenty percent of people who are or will be affected by a mental illness. Mental health is an issue that transcends gender, race, socioeconomic backgrounds, and age. Faculty, staff, students, and the community are all affected; in fact students at BU rated their mental health as “not good” for seven out of thirty days, according to Healthy Campus.
This week was something that was extremely important because it’s such a prevalent, relevant issue for all of the community at BU, but mental health is rarely directly addressed. It was fantastic to see so many stakeholders participate in the planning and execution of the week: the Brandon University Students’ Union, the Brandon University Administration, Brandon University Faculty, Healthy Brandon, Healthy Campus, and other groups from within the community. Seeing the community take responsibility for planning the week rather than individual stakeholders showed that this is not an issue that affects any one demographic: it’s everyone.
The first day was focused on the signs and symptoms of depression, and was headed by Sandy McMaster and Sherry Sawatzky-Dyck, counsellors in Student Services. They had information about depression, as well as people present to answer questions. The second day was about laughter and humour, headed by Suz Duff, the vice president external at BUSU. There was popcorn and videos playing in the Mingling Area, and a laughter yoga workshop. The big event was Big Daddy Tazz, a comedian who suffers from and talks about mental illness. There were two free shows, one aimed at the campus community, the second aimed at the greater Brandon community at large. Those present had a great time. Tazz has a great method of talking about important, serious issues, but not making people feel uncomfortable. He is also hilarious, and that really helps.
The third day was about health and fitness, headed by Donna Epp of Healthy Campus and Mari Kitching of the BRHA. There was information about the nutritional value of food, free fruit and chocolate milk, and they brought in Daryle McCannell to teach people how to give energy break classes.
The last day was particularly relevant given the time of year, as it was about stress and coping. This day was organized by Michelle Magnusson in Disability Services and Alex Braun in Student Services. This day was very popular, with crafts in the Mingling Area, as well as the very popular animals that came to spend time with students. There were rabbits, dogs, a bird, and a hedgehog. It was really great to watch students, staff, and faculty sitting on the couches together in the Mingling Area, talking to one another and holding animals. I happened to be there during a break, and the people in the line at Forbidden Flavours would look to see what was going on, and then had huge smiles on their faces as they saw the animals. It was really fantastic. There were also reiki and massage demonstrations, and these were quite popular.
I believe that we accomplished our goal for the week, and were able to raise awareness around mental health issues. It was a starting point for raising awareness about mental health issues, and will hopefully begin to open a dialogue. Not only do we hope that Mental Health Awareness Week will be a yearly event, but we also hope to do other events throughout the year. We learned a lot about what will and will not be successful, which will help for planning in the future. We will also look at doing the week further away from exam time next year, as some students were too stressed out to participate in de-stressing activities! Please send any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org if you think of any ideas to help improve what we do in the future.
Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 13, November 27, 2012.