A walk for mental health

(Photo by Nick Lachance.)
(Photo by Nick Lachance.)

The Mental Health Education Group (MHEG) at Wilfrid Laurier University held an event last Thursday to get students talking — and walking — for mental health awareness.

The event, Love My Life: A Walk for Mental Health, featured a 12-hour long walk, a free Zumba class and a featured speaker. Drew Dudley, the founder of Nuance Leadership Development Services and motivational speaker, talked about his experiences with living with a mental illness.

“The most powerful thing that a speaker can do is to get people to say, ‘Oh, I thought I was the only one,’” Dudley told The Cord following his speech.

“When I finally heard someone talk about this, it gave me permission, to myself, to talk about it too. And I never try and pass up the opportunity to maybe offer that same opportunity for someone.”

Dudley has been living with hypomania bipolar disorder and has used his experiences to help bring down the stigma revolving around mental health and mental illness on university campuses.

His points really resonated with one of the event coordinators and Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union president and CEO, Michael Onabolu.

Onabolu, who has shared some of his issues with mental illness openly in the past, has been heavily involved with the development of MHEG.

“It was huge for me, especially a lot of the things that he said I could identify with,” Onabolu said about meeting Dudley.

Onabolu said he formed the group with Adrienne Luft, the mental health student support team leader at Laurier, to find an avenue to increase the discussion about mental well-being on campus. The group was formed back in the fall.

“Coming into this [position as WLUSU president], I campaigned on mental health awareness and kind of raising that bar and trying to reduce that stigma. Getting the role, I felt like I had a lot of accumulated interest, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to spend it or do with it,” explained Onabolu.

He explained how there were two sides of the group – the education side and the advisory side.

“There was the education side, so I really wanted to raise the awareness … but there was also the advisory side we just wanted to talk a bit more about the systemic issues and some of the things we can get more information on to make recommendations to the university and some of the groups on campus,” he said, adding that MHEG has been reaching out to the community to increase their partnerships.

Luft said that the challenge with the event was the temperature, but felt the event was a success. Next year she hopes to “draw bigger crowds.”

Donations were also collected at the event for Beautiful Minds, a group associated with the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“This has been a very developmental year. This is the first year the group has actually existed. We’re going to be engaging in some planning discussions to figure out … where we want to head as a group,” Luft said about future plans.

However, Luft noted that there are still come challenges when it comes to talking about mental illness and hopes to receive some feedback from the students in the near future about how they can open up that discussion.

The first challenge is to the change the culture of thinking around mental illness and mental health.

“They’re the person first, not their illness,” she said. “I think that when we’re looking at changing and shifting how we look at those things we need to address people, not just illness and symptoms.”

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