Students draw attention to mental health issues

In All, Health, News by Linda Givetash

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: March 14, 2013 | [ WEB ]


Students were walking, talking and dancing at Wilfrid Laurier University Thursday to draw attention to mental health.

From noon until midnight, students participated in the Love My Life: A Walk for Mental Health campaign to create a campus dialogue about the issue and raise funds for the Beautiful Minds program at the Grand River branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“We’re looking at mental health education on campus and to be able to provide that to all members of the Laurier community,” said Adrienne Luft, the university’s mental health and student support team leader.

“One of the main visions that our student group has come up with is to actively develop a culture of compassion and a community of openness,” she said.

Despite the windy weather, students, staff, faculty and community members walked in groups or pairs around the outdoor amphitheatre in the centre of the Waterloo campus. The activity gave participants a chance to have conversations with one another about their experiences or concerns for mental health issues and create a closer-knit community.

“Mental health isn’t something that should be scary to talk about,” said Michael Onabolu, a Laurier student and president of the university’s student union.

Onabolu said that having experienced a mental health crisis himself, he realizes the need to eradicate the stigma around mental health and support those with an illness to seek help.

“When I went through it I felt like I was alone,” he said. “Coming back to school and talking to other students … there were a number of students who said, ‘I had an experience like that’ and it really opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not alone, this is something people go through.”

Onabolu’s intent to encourage students with mental illness to seek help was echoed by speaker Drew Dudley, who kicked off the event.

Dudley, founder of leadership development agency Nuance Leadership Inc., shared his story of unknowingly struggling with bipolar disorder while at university and well into his late 20s.

When he had suicidal thoughts, Dudley reached out to friends, who pushed him to find medical help.

“Asking for help is not weakness, it is strength,” he said to a crowd of students.

One student group that participated in the walk has been working for a few years to create a safe space for their peers to talk about mental health problems.

“We just try to create an environment where people can talk about mental health issues and not be stigmatized or judged by it,” said Prabhdeep Jammu, one of the students promoting the organization Burst Your Bubble

Many other campus groups, such as the university’s athletics department which organized an outdoor Zumba class, were involved in the walk as well, said Luft.

“We’re trying to engage different members of our communities at Laurier,” she said.

The inaugural walk was inspired by the Minds in Motion K-W Walking Classic that raises awareness about mental illness in the region, said Luft. She looks forward to the event growing and changing with the needs of the campus community in the future.

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Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.