Mental health is something that many struggle with day-to-day, yet it has become a popular discussion that many limit to a single day in the year.
This coming Wednesday recognizes the annual Bell Let’s Talk day, calling on millions of individuals to engage with the hashtag over social media to raise funds for mental health awareness and support organizations. At Western University, students at the Wellness Education Centre (WEC) are working to make mental health awareness a continuous conversation.
“Our goal isn’t to just promote Bell Let’s Talk day. Its to use this platform and opportunity, that [for] a lot of people who don’t regularly engage with mental health and talk about it, this is something that sparks interest in those people. We’re kind of just trying to use this opportunity to bring people into a conversation”, says Gabi Christie, the Outreach Commissioner at the WEC and a Wellness Peer Educator.
She says the WEC is working to create campaigns that focus on the students at Western and their experiences. Much of the projects will be accessible through social media. Currently, a Facebook campaign has been started by staff members, like Gabi, sharing the ways mental illness has had an impact on themselves or those around them.
“I hope that people can find strength in peoples’ stories and their vulnerability”
Social media works as an efficient tool for the WEC’s newly introduced campaigns because of the ability for positive stories to reach a larger volume of students online. The goals for this year’s mental health initiatives is to get more people engaged, therefore, normalizing conversations about mental health.
“People might have these perceptions that its not normal to seek help – that it’s not normal to talk about emotional or mental issues. When I say that, ‘the more action that people are taking, and the more people that become involved, the more normal it seems’, I think I mean, the more common it is, it just makes it less scary and more real”, explains Christie.
“It’s a continuing thing. There’s no deadline. You don’t have to just post on this particular day”
On Wednesday, an information booth will be set-up in the University Community Centre (UCC) atrium. Staff at the WEC will be organizing interactive activities to get students thinking about mental health, a way to educate themselves, and to get involved.
Follow-up campaigns will be running through the rest of the year, bringing other groups across campus into a social media campaign of sharing stories, experiences, encouragement, and compassion.
What Fanshawe is doing
Students at Fanshawe College will also be given an opportunity to be apart of the conversation about mental health. On Wednesday, a photo booth will be set-up to give students an opportunity to fill-out speech bubbles answering the question, “I take care of my mental health by…”. It is a chance to see what other peers do to take care of themselves and share messages of encouragement.
Toronto-based Jordan Axani will be bringing a special pop-up event called, “What’s Your Big Lie?”. The success and popularity of the event in Toronto is based-off the premises that everybody lives with a big lie, defined as “something immense that we hide from the world, even though it defines us.”
“Lies can be debilitating”
“What’s Your Big Lie?” encourages students to talk about their secrets by texting their messages to an anonymous phone number, specifically set-up for the activity. The secrets will then be projected onto projection screens throughout Forwell Hall, for other peers to read.
Kate Morson, Student Life Coordinator at Fanshawe Student Union, says the goal of the activity is to bring forth a sense of relatability by thinking, “wow, somebody else feels that way, too.”
“Lies can be debilitating. If you hold something in, it may affect your personal relationships, it may affect how you go out in the world, and how you go through your everyday routine. This way, getting it off your chest anonymously or not probably has a lot more benefits than people realize”, says Morson.
All interactive activities and information booths will be available at Forwell Hall from 10AM-2PM on Jan. 31. The handwritten speech bubbles will be up for the week, with student advisors available to answer any questions.
“You’re human. Don’t be so hard on yourself”
Morson encourages students to talk about mental health all year, reminding everyone that the FSU main office is open Monday-Friday from 9AM-4:30PM, and always welcomes feedback.
“I am a student too. I am going through the struggles that every person on this campus is feeling. [so] again, you’re not alone. We all have our days. We all have our struggles. And that’s okay. You’re human. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember you’re not alone, and talk to somebody if you’re struggling”, says Morson.
Kid’s Help Phone – Crisis Text Line
Outside of London, youth across Canada may soon have an opportunity to access immediate, 24/7 mental health support via text messages.
Picking up the phone in an emergency situation to ask for help isn’t always an easy thing to do. This year, a partnership between the Crisis Text Line and the Kids Help Phone is looking to offer a new tech-friendly option that gives those in crisis the option to send a text message for support. Kids Help Phone research revealed that 71 percent of young people prefer texting as a communication method for counselling support.
The Crisis Text Line was initially launched in two U.S. cities in 2013, processing over 58 million crisis messages since. The Crisis Text Line has partnered with the Kids Help Phone at the option of expanding into Canada as a global initiative. The service will be offered as a pilot in Manitoba as of mid-February. The testing period will run for approximately six months before determining the option to launch across other provinces and territories.
Currently, Kids Help Phone is calling for anyone 18 years-of-age and older and enthusiastic about helping young people to volunteer. Volunteers will be expected to undergo a vulnerable sector police check and participate in a rigorous, 36-hour online training program.
The program trains volunteers to “take texters through a five-stage structured conversation designed to bring each texter from a hot moment to a cool calm” rather than providing counselling. Paid supervisors and counsellors will monitor the texting platform, offer coaching to volunteers when needed, ensure Kids Help Phone meets its legal duties regarding safety and reporting and will step in should a situation escalate.
The Crisis Text Line is an extension of the Kids Help Phone Live Chat and Phone Service, which will still be available 24/7 to provide professional counsellors to assist those in need. For more information, visit the Kids Help Phone website.