On Oct. 1 and 2, the fourth annual Students in Mind (SiM) Conference took place at the Shatner Building. The student-run event aims to destigmatize mental health issues through a series of workshops and panels. Guest speakers included McGill alumni Malek Yalaoui and Evan Berry. Comedian Christophe Davidson, who has struggled with mental illness, was also a featured speaker.
According to Quinn Ashkenazy, U4 Arts and director of SiM, the forum is designed to promote the importance of mental health on the McGill campus.
“The conference started four years ago,” Ashkenazy said. “Students in Mind started with a group of students that really had a vision to try and create a network on campus that supports mental health.”
According to Ashkenazy, students are often eager to volunteer for extracurricular activities, but tend to neglect their personal well-being.
“You could volunteer at a bunch of different organizations […] but I think something really important for students to take away is also just to take care of themselves, advocating for themselves, prioritizing their mental health, and also supporting those around them–their peers, their friends. Just checking in with each other,” Ashkenazy said.
Sarah Randall, U1 Arts, believes meeting mental health specialists at the conference makes asking for help later on less daunting.
“If you do actually decide to seek help with mental health [after the conference], you’re not going into it blind,” Randall said. “You know who you’re going to be dealing with and it makes [seeking help] feel a little bit less overwhelming”
Throughout the seminars, attendees were also offered active breaks, where they could participate in activities ranging from improv to kickboxing. After attending a workshop called Mental Health 101, which addressed the stigmas surrounding mental health, and a panel titled Body and Mind: How are physical health and mental health combined, Chi Pham, U0 Arts and Science, opted for yoga during the active break period.
“The yoga break also helped promote a sense of community by bringing a group together for the exercise,” Pham said. “For me, it was a completely new experience exercising among other people, so […] it was worth trying. Before the [SiM] conference, I was skeptical about the impact that physical activity could have on mental health.”
Other workshops included improving active listening skills, creating strategies to improve mental health, and maintaining motivation and overall well-being. Ashkenazy commented on the importance of the content presented in the SiM panels and workshops.
“There’s a workshop on peer support focused on […] recognizing signs that things might not be okay, how to check in, how to listen to someone in a really nonjudgmental and validating way,” Ashkenazy said. “Then we also have a workshop called Maintaining Wellness and it’s a very condensed version of [the] wellness recovery action plan which is a six week psycho-education course offered through McGill Mental Health [….Maintaining] Wellness is going to be focused on giving people kind of a toolbox to take care of their well-being, to recognize their triggers, early warning signs and to develop an action-plan to deal with these things and to try and prevent getting into a mode where things are breaking down or a crisis.”
Floor Fellow Kathleen Godfrey, a Master’s student in anthropology, said the speakers’ different perspectives drew her to the initiative. For Godfrey, the conference is a reminder of the resources available at McGill.
“Sometimes, in support work, you forget about the network that is at McGill,” Godfrey said. “Even though I’m a resource for first-year students […] you forget that other people walking around on campus also really care and are trying to learn more [about mental health], and better themselves in those ways.”