The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) annual Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place virtually from Oct. 4 until Oct. 10, consisted of various lectures and workshops that served to deconstruct the stigma surrounding mental illness.
SSMU held many interactive events over the week, such as mental health workshops like “Breaking the Barriers of Eating Disorders” and “Navigating Health Care Q&A,” and an ArtHive virtual event, during which participants learned how to use art to express their feelings. The events both raised awareness on mental illness and informed students on how to to seek help and support.
The Mental Health Awareness workshop hosted on Oct. 8 by the Postgraduate Student Society of McGill was open to both graduate and undergraduate McGill students. Speakers Helen Loohuis, a part-time access advisor at the Student Health Club, and Deven Simpson, a graduate local wellness advisor, explained the importance of mental health and the difference between mental health and mental illness.
“[It is important for] mental health and mental well-being [to be] part of the conversation,” Simpson said. “There is a shift [necessary] to destigmatize mental awareness, and conversation is part of that shift.”
Loohuis elaborated on the importance of effectively communicating about mental health.
“When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental well-being,” Loohuis said. “[Mental well-being includes] our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, [whereas] mental illness affects the way people think, feel, behave, or interact with others.”
Participant Jen Chenn, a Ph.D student in the Department of Medicine, spoke to the differences in public opinion of various mental illnesses.
“Stigma regarding some mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are now much lower because these illnesses are more talked about,” Chenn said. “The stigma against schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is much higher, because the symptoms of the illness tend to push people away. People get scared, and it is not as talked about.”
McGill’s SSMU Mental Health branch also held a workshop titled “Deconstructing the Common Notions about Eating Disorders,” a talk given by Ph.D candidate Kimberly Carriere from the Health Psychology lab.
“Kimberly Carriere [brought] an insightful clinical view of eating disorders to the Mental Illness Awareness Series,” Kristen Mer, the event coordinator for the talk, said. “She took the time to develop the public’s knowledge about eating habits [….] I think Kimberly really helped answer the attendees’ questions regarding the delineation of emotional eating, binge eating, and biological predispositions.”
Another participant of the week-long event, Olivia Feng, U2 Education, agreed that increased knowledge is necessary regarding lesser-known eating disorders.
“Kimberly’s talk was very informative as she [shed] light on a variety of eating disorders that are not commonly talked about in the media, such as orthorexia, binge-eating disorder, and avoidant [or] restrictive food intake disorder,” Feng said. “She did a great job of deconstructing the common notions of eating disorders, showing that they are not ‘one-size-fits-all.’”
Feng also spoke about the importance of having conversations about eating disorders.
“The reasons for which eating disorders manifest and the behaviours that people engage in are not the same for everyone,” Feng said. “Stereotyping and glamorizing eating disorders and disordered eating can have detrimental consequences, which is why it is so important to have conversations about this topic that go beyond the very little that is portrayed in the media.”
In recent years, mental health awareness has increased substantially, and will likely continue to evolve through virtual resources similar to this. SSMU Mental Health’s virtual events aimed to create an accessible platform for all students to be a part of the conversation, and to learn more about the resources McGill offers. Some of the resources highlighted include the Keep.meSafe counselling service app, which is open to all students 24/7 offering services through online chat or over the phone. Additionally, virtual Wellness Hub appointments are available to allow students the chance to speak to a counsellor.