Awareness campaign informs students and reduces stigma associated with mental illness
In the name of mental health, the Great Hall at Burnaby Campus was full of energy and activity.
The second annual Speak Up Speak Out event—a BCIT Student Association (BCITSA) and BCIT student services joint initiative — took place in February, aiming to raise awareness about mental health.
All week, hundreds of students and staff on campus wore purple T-shirts that read “Speak Up Speak Out” in yellow and white.
Event organizer Karl Tegen-feldt says the event was working to create a dialogue about mental health issues he says are often swept under the rug. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) calls mental illness or disorders “the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide”. The Association estimates 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder.
According to the CMHA, 80 per cent of those affected by depression get back to their regular activities once it’s been diagnosed.
For student and co-organizer Zac Dér, the idea of creating a dialogue around mental illness really hits home. About three months ago, Dér’s 18-year-old cousin was diagnosed with clinical depression. However, nobody in his family recognized there was a problem until it was almost too late.
“He ended up being in a psych ward. That was quite shocking to our family. We wanted to get in there and help him, but he didn’t share [his mental illness] until [the] moment he almost killed himself.”
The CMHA says suicide is actually the number two killer of youth aged 15 to 24 in Canada — the third highest rate in the industrialized world.
Dér says stress is one of the biggest causes of mental illness. He hopes providing an opportunity for students to talk about stress will stop them from succumbing to mental illness.
[pullquote]”The event was working to create a dialogue about mental health issues that are often swept under the rug.”[/pullquote]
Students wrote what they would do to recognize mental illness on a pledge wall. One message read, “ I will learn to recognize the signs”. Another said, “I asked my friends to get help”.
As well as creating an open dialogue about mental health, other activities included the Zen Lounge and Doggy De-stress.
For Doggy De-stress, BCIT-SA staff brought dogs to campus in order to give students an opportunity take a break from studies and cuddle with some friendly canines. At times, the event was so popular it was hard to even get close the dogs.
The Zen Lounge offered free massages and Reiki, which calmed weary and stressed students who might have otherwise been cramming for exams or carting around heavy backpacks.
According to Dér, the event was an opportunity to find tools to make people feel better and supported even those not suffering from mental health issues.
Other offerings included breathing and mindfulness sessions, as well as a roundtable, where students could discuss what the campus could do to support those suffering from mental illness.
Although organizers do not have exact participation numbers, they say the scale last year did not come close to what was offered this year.