Bridging the Gap’s Speak Up series comes to an end for the 2018-2019 year

Graphic by Kash Patel

On Wednesday, March 20, Bridging the Gap hosted their final “Speak Up” series event of the year, an event that advocates for mental health initiatives to continue throughout the year — and not just on national campaign days. 

The event concludes a year-long event, where Bridging the Gap gathered students and mental professionals to talk about their experiences and struggles with mental health, as well as listen to stories from other students that may inspire them.

“We’ve been hosting these events for the past three years, we usually have two or three a semester; it’s in a classroom, so it’s really informal and students are invited to speak about their experience with mental health,” said Ashley Siegel, president of Bridging the Gap. 

“Some people go up and speak about their experience with diagnoses and what it’s like living with depression or anxiety, some people go up and ask questions because they have a friend who is struggling and want to help, it’s just a way for students to feel like they have a place to know their experiences aren’t happening in isolation.”

The aim of the event is to create a safe space for students to be able to share their stories or even just listen to other to know they are not going through their struggles alone. 

Students may attend just to listen to others, but many who attend the series consistently find their courage to speak near the end of the semester.

The event was the final event for Bridging the Gap for the year, and Siegel’s final event as president of the club, but the impact their events have on student wellbeing will continue on campus.

“We always have a mental health professional that is there, so if anyone is triggered or anything like that, they can just give a thumbs down and walk out of the room, so that way we can make sure everyone is ok,” Siegel said.

Siegel was motivated to make a difference after she attended Queen’s University in her first-year of undergraduate studies, but transferred to Laurier due to her struggles with mental health.

“I had a lot of my own mental health problems and I didn’t find the support or resources I needed at Queen’s. It wasn’t something that was talked about a lot so when I came to Laurier I wanted to get involved with something that could help other first year students,” Siegel said.

“The impact it would’ve had when I was in first year if someone had come up to me and told me it was ok to feel anxiety or my mental health struggles would be substantial, so I wanted to talk about it. There’s never a reason to suffer in silence.”

The series of talks aims to continue the conversation about mental health, as many people keep their struggles internal, or only speak up about them on social media when campaigns like “Bell Let’s Talk” come up once a year. 

“There’s always something to say for the fact it’s become a social media day, some people are going to share it without really looking into what it’s about, there’s a lot of controversies about it but a lot of people share their stories for the first time on those days,” Siegel said.

“It can be inspiring for a lot of people, and for Bridging the Gap we want to take that and continue it, like last year we had an event called ‘Let’s Keep Talking’ right after — and it encouraged students.”

Bridging the Gap also puts on formal events throughout the year with mental health professionals or events that give away mental health support kits, but the aim of Speak Up is for students to feel comfortable and have an accessible way to cope with their struggles.

“It’s amazing seeing students who have gotten the courage and slowly work their way up to being able to talk about their struggles or feeling enabled to get the help they need and have a safe community for all of us to show support,” Siegel said.

“We work with Leanne Holland Brown a lot, she really cares about the students, she’ll meet with us and get feedback about how students are feeling about services like the Wellness Centre and how Laurier is doing in support their students’ wellbeing.”

The event was the final event for Bridging the Gap for the year, and Siegel’s final event as president of the club, but the impact their events have on student wellbeing will continue on campus.

“It’s nice to see the progression how people are becoming more open to talk about these things as the world becomes a little more accepting of mental illness as well,” Siegel said.

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