On Oct. 4, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Building was host to the third annual Students in Mind (SiM) Mental Health Conference. The conference, as student content organizer Quinn Ashkenazy explained, was not only meant to give students tools to maintain their mental health, but also to facilitate open conversation about mental wellness on campus.
“As I see it, the goals of the conference are to get the conversation going, [and] to a certain extent motivate action [which] can take a whole bunch of different forms,” Ashkenazy said. “The other thing is tackling stigma, so addressing why it’s taboo to talk about mental health a priority [… and] getting that conversation going [is] part of uniting [students].”
The conference was organized to help address what SiM student publicity organizer Adam Pietrobon described as an increase in mental health needs on university campuses.
“It’s definitely been seen at the university level that there’s been a rising increase of students dealing with mental health issues and mental illness,” said Pietrobon. “There’s been an increase in resources but there’s also a large community, campus-wide issue where it’s just not openly talked about enough,”
Participants were provided with opportunities to learn about mental wellness through workshops, group exercise, and panel discussions between experts in the field.
“[Participants] start with a keynote and have panels and workshops, [and] snack breaks,” said Ashkenazy. “The past years have been great but this year we’re just trying to build it and […] make it a really positive experience [….] That’s why we throw in the active break, we have a keynote speaker who [rapped], [and] we tried to make sure that the workshops were engaging [and] that there were different activities. ”
SiM intended to address the unique circumstances surrounding mental health on university campuses. As Adler explained, mental wellness is a unique challenge for university students.
“The changes they are undergoing as young people can be important sources of stress in their lives,” said McGill-educated clinical psychologist and SiM panelist, Perry Adler. “Some are away from their families for the first time, many are dealing with more obligations and responsibilities causing them more stress than ever before in their lives. McGill I think is one of the toughest schools academically in North America so I think McGill students are unfortunately under more stress than many other students even in other universities.”
This year’s SiM conference opened with a keynote speech delivered by Eytan Millstone, an award-winning spoken word artist. Millstone emphasized that students should consider maintaining their mental health as a goal to enrich their personal happiness and satisfaction, as it is a matter of the utmost importance in individuals’ lives.
“I think so much of it is just being aware that you feel things and that you have things going on in your head.” said Adler. “[Students are] in school, they’re working, they’re running around and they probably feel like there aren’t enough minutes in a day to even do those things, let alone to sit down and ust reflect […] like, ok, class is over for the day, I know what my goals with school are, I know what my goals with my job are [… but] how do I want to come out of this experience as a person, not as a student, not as a worker [….] It's all about awareness of your own self and asking yourself those questions constantly.”
Pietrobon emphasized that students should be comfortable reaching out for help on campus.
“It’s okay to not be okay,” said Pietrobon. “If you start the conversation and you speak about what you’ve experienced, other people will [also] start the conversation and then everyone is talking and I think that’s what I would really love people to take away [from this conference].”