‘Stigmatizing the stigma’

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

Mental health will be one of the top priorities for Wilfrid Laurier University and the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union when students return in the fall.

Adrienne Luft, the mental health and student support team leader, explained the goal this year is to eliminate stigmas surrounding different types of personal health.

“Obviously mental health and physical health are all part of our overall health,” she explained.

“So when we’re talking about wellness, it encompasses our physical health, spiritual health, cultural health — there are so many different pieces that it includes.”

The new Wellness Centre, which allows students to proceed through streamline care will help “tear down the stigma” for those seeking help, Luft said.

In addition, 12 faculty and staff members are being trained in mental health and first aid.

This aims to enhance student leaders, faculty and administration’s understanding of mental health and to recognize signs of distress, while helping people toward professional care.

“The project aims to increase people’s mental health and first aid literacy, as well as to help them intervene,” Luft explained.
Sam Lambert, president and CEO of the Students’ Union, explained that the mental health and first aid training is a “university wide” initiative and hopes to have the entire staff and coordinators trained at the Union.

“Ideally, we’d like to have all of our volunteers trained in mental health and first aid. It’s a lot to deal with, it’s a lot of time for the trainers, but that’s the goal long term,” Lambert said.

He also explained that a big focus for the Union will be self-care, especially during Orientation Week when volunteers are on constantly on site.

“Volunteers tend to put themselves second always, and lose sight of keeping themselves healthy,” he said.

“So that’s something we’re very focused on. How can you take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself?”

Kayleigh Abbott, vice-president of academics and research for the Graduate Students’ Association and a mental health education coordinator, explained that the approach needs to be through education of what mental health really means.

“It’s through educating our peers and volunteers and other students on mental health so that people can understand what mental health is,” she said.

“When you have an understanding, it kind of erases the stigma surrounding it and can start challenging people’s thoughts or opinions that arise through media or misinformation.”

“[We also want to] stigmatize the stigma, and making it so it’s not an option,” Danielle Stewart, a mental health education coordinator at Laurier said.

“We’re going to talk about our mental health as well, and take away the stigma.”

Initiatives this year include Rootstock, which is a mental health summit for student leaders focusing on collaboration, and the Love My Life Walk for Mental Health.

The events will be hosted on Sept. 20 and Oct. 1, respectively.

The student leaders also hope to re-launch the Boost Your Bubble workshops in January.

“We’re really comfortable talking about our bodies — most parts of it — from the neck down. But when it comes to things mentally, someone might be hesitant to say they’ve been to a counsellor, but not hesitant to say they went somewhere for physio[therapy],” Luft said.

“Our hopes are to get somewhere where both of those things are easily talked about.”

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