For the past two years, Mount Allison’s Change your Mind group has brought the national anti-stigma campaign, Elephant in the Room, to campus. Change your Mind is a student organization with a mission to de-stigmatize and raise awareness of student mental health.
The Elephant in the Room Speaker Series has quickly become one of the most popular events on campus, with a crowd of approximately 180 this year.
The event included student speakers; a photobooth; entertainment from student musicians, Max Grizzly and the Entertainment; and whiteboards that allowed students to answer the question, ‘what is your elephant?’
Lindsay Sherwood (’12), the University’s mental health outreach intern, organized the event. She believes the speaker series has been successful because it uses a peer-education approach to address a high profile and very relatable topic.
“The Elephant in the Room speaker series provides an opportunity for students to learn more about the challenges faced by their peers and it is easy to relate to the stigmatization, given that we have all encountered or experienced mental health issues,” says Sherwood.
In fact, one in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lives.
Hillary Morgan, a fourth-year history student from Cape Breton, spoke about living with generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression.
“For a long time, and until just recently, I referred to my anxiety and depression as a well-kept secret,” says Morgan.
Second-year sociology and Canadian studies student Piper Riley Thompson offered a different perspective on mental illness — being a support system for a friend.
“My friend always says things to me like, ‘I don't want to burden you,’ but being there for someone with mental illness is never a burden. You just have to remind yourself that what's happening inside their head is dark and frightening at times and it’s your job to try and help them turn on a light.”
Pictou County native and third-year psychology student Sarah MacCallum explained more about her life with obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. She says because she didn’t look sick or fit the stereotypical view of what a mentally ill person would look like, she waited years for a diagnosis.
“The stigma stopped me from getting a diagnosis and took five years of my life,” she says.
MacCallum says that obsessive compulsive disorder is as common as type 1 diabetes.
Canadian studies and geography student Michael Duguay, from Peterborough, ON, candidly talked about his struggle with addiction. He says it wasn’t until he was diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder that he was able to better understand his emotions and get help for his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“I never chose to be a drug addict or to have this bipolar disorder. Now I have the choice and I can be the person I know I am,” says Duguay.
Mount Allison’s Change your Mind group, which was established in 2011, now has eight executive members, a representative in each residence, and approximately 70 campus volunteers. The executive group meets once a week to plan events like the Elephant in the Room Speaker Series, Therapy Dogs, the Stress-Free Zone, as well as to create mental illness awareness campaigns and organize support groups.
Counselling (mta.ca/counselling) and support services are also available through Mount Allison’s Wellness Centre (mta.ca/wellness) and through Beautiful Minds — an anonymous online peer-to-peer forum. The Wellness Centre is located on the bottom floor of the Wallace McCain Student Centre.