Print Edition: February 18, 2015
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of university students are affected by mental illness — yet the dialogue around it is choked up with stigma, shaming, and misinformation. Safe Space is an open discussion about mental illness and health on campus. Questions or stories? Email Sasha Moedt.
Mental health has never been on the long list of student groups and associations at UFV. On a campus that’s all about open discourse, safe zones, and healthy student life, its absence came as a surprise for Harsh Sidhu.
“One in five Canadians are affected by mental illness, roughly, and teens to adults is where the peak is, and yet it’s not openly talked about,” Sidhu said.
Sidhu is taking initiative to fill that void at UFV with the mental health awareness club (MHAC). As president, with his fellow students Gagan Rai, Gurpreet Bhangoo, and Ajay Sharma as vice-presidents, MHAC’s goal is to break through the stigma around mental health issues, and open up the dialogue on mental health and wellness on campus.
The first MHAC meeting, which took place the Tuesday before reading break, drew about a dozen students. The small group discussed the stigma around mental illness, specifically in the media, and its causes — including lack of understanding.
“People tell you to change your mind frame — that kind of thing. Get over it, heal yourself. You don’t see someone lying in bed with a broken arm, and someone coming up and saying, ‘Heal yourself,’” Sidhu said.
The lack of understanding leads to a lack of proper support for those affected by mental illness.
“It’s just another illness … and yet people think it’s something outrageous when someone says they have mental health issues.”
The floor was opened up to attendees’ feedback and ideas about how to reach the student body. Students pitched the idea of workshops with counsellors, posters, and social events. They also brought up how to become more inclusive — such as branching out to the Chilliwack campus, and reaching out to UFV’s 800 international students.
Like many advocates for mental health, Sidhu’s motivation for starting MHAC is personal.
“For two years I’ve had depression and anxiety and I’m still dealing with it today,” he says.
“It’s pretty hard to talk to people about it. Especially having guy friends, trying to talk about it, they’re all like, ‘You’re supposed to be tough!’ That’s what society tells you — be tough. It’s hard to talk about it.”
Sidhu explains that his personal experiences dealing with his mental illness made him passionate about the issue. His personal goal is to provide a space for students to come out and share their own experiences.
“We’re not here to counsel you,” he says. “We’re just here to hear you out if you have nowhere else to speak you mind in a [judgement]-free space.”
MHAC will have regular meeting times, which are yet to be decided. For more information on to get involved with MHAC, email firstname.lastname@example.org.