#MyDefinition: “My Mental Health is Part of Me, But it Does Not Define Me”

One of several posters seen around campus. (Credit: #MyDefinition Campaign)

Mental Health week took place a few weeks ago, and with it Lee Thomas, spokesperson for the #MyDefinition campaign, introduced the campaign to Brandon University. Three of Brandon University’s students are partaking in the campaign as the local faces of the campaign. Posters have been publicised showing their involvement with #MyDefinition, as well as showing how they define themselves as people. In an exclusive interview with The Quill, Sarah Wallace, Whitney Hodgins, and Shalyssa DeBin told us why the #MyDefinition campaign is important to them, and why they became BU’s recognisable faces.

The Quill: What was your motivation for joining this campaign?

Sarah Wallace: I’ve been following the campaign for over a year now and have always loved what it stood for in regards to creating a dialogue surrounding mental health and the stigma’s surrounding it. There were times where I’d look at the campaign posters from different campuses and would take comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in my struggles. The #MyDefinition has offered me so much hope as I’ve moved through the last few years that I felt I had to get involved. I hope I can be that solace for someone else when/if they need it.

Whitney Hodgins: My motivation for joining the #MyDefinition campaign was that it had the message that “mental illness is a part of me but it doesn’t define me”. I live by that motto each and every single day.

Shalyssa DeBin: I was motivated to join because my beliefs about mental illness aligned with the #MyDefinition campaign. For about two years now, I had sunk to the [idea] that because of my mental illness, I was lesser than other people, or that I was broken. This campaign came out at a perfect time because it reminded me about who I am and how I’ve always wanted to fight against stigma and stand up for people with mental illness.

TQ: What does the #MyDefinition campaign mean to you?

SW: The campaign to me is a gamechanger. It shows that it’s our time as a generation to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and promote a better understanding of what mental health is and who [all it] affects. Truthfully it means change to me. And empowerment. Two elements which need to be addressed more positively in our current society. I’m so proud to be a part of all this!

WH: This campaign has many aspects that make it meaningful to me. I guess deep down, it allows me a safe way to let others know that this is me. But in the same token I also want people to know that they’re not alone in their inner battles, whatever those battles may be. I also am breaking down barriers and possible misconceptions about mental health issues because there is a lot of stigma associated with mental health and I really think we need to let our personalities shine now more then ever to prove those misconceptions wrong.

SD: The #MyDefinition Campaign is about people who have been stereotyped by others as well as themselves realizing and proclaiming that they are not mental illness. They happen to have it, but mental illness does not describe any one of us. We are so much more than that. And being able to confront it and stand up to stigma and stereotypes is incredibly empowering.

TQ: How do you see #MyDefinition affecting the student dynamic on campus? What is one thing that you would like to see happen as a result of this campaign either generally, or specific to your involvement with the campaign?

SW: I can’t offer any concrete predictions but my biggest hope is that a dialogue will be created. We’re still such a small conservative city and the opinions surrounding mental health are starting to change but we’re not there yet. I’m hoping this campaign, and those who have been involved in it, will continue to stand up and create the dialogue. Information is powerful and I hope that the information I’ve shared can help someone better understand what every day struggles lie ahead for some of us. I just want there to be a change in how we address mental health both on campus and across Canada! I’m also hoping more students will become involved and especially pursue training in mental health first aid. Conversation can create change. And ultimately, If I can just reach one person who has been struggling and help them deal, or come to terms with their mental health, then that’s just perfect.

WH: The student dynamic is always changing. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But it’s constantly changing. My hope is that this will change the student dynamic on a more positive note. To possibly help those who didn’t know that help could be sought, to make those aware that people on campus do need help and that they shouldn’t feel afraid to step in and ask even a simple “are you okay?” to someone. We are all students. And we need to unite and stand together and create the support network that every student needs. I know if I had someone ask me if I was okay on more then one occasion, it probably would have opened up dialogue which could have then possibly led me to resources on campus. That’s how powerful a simple “are you okay” can be. I’m hoping this creates a discussion. A dialogue within the campus. To make people realize that there is help out there. Even if you come up to me or anyone of the other people who took part in this campaign with me. I’m sure they would be happy to help in any way they can. I know I’m happy to help.

SD: I hope that by seeing our posters and looking on the website people with mental health issues will feel empowered and be able to distance themselves from their labels. I also hope that someone [who] has certain stigmas or beliefs about people who have mental illness, will be able to put a face onto the label or stereotype they believe in. As you can see, there are quite a lot of us with similar diagnoses, but we’re so different that it would be impossible for us all to fit the stereotypes of anxiety, BPD, or learning disability.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 107, Issue 21, February 7th, 2017.