As many of you know, I have dealt with and currently still deal with mental health issues, and know many people close to me who are struggling as well. I’m a big advocate for mental health issues, and continuously speak of it, and share my thoughts through social media. Mental health is a growing concern; did you know 1 in 5 Canadians have mental health problems? Unfortunately, even though many people are taking action to help those suffering, there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination around it. Negative connotations are put towards mental illnesses, and stereotypes build up to the point where people dealing with a mental illness pretend to be okay, or don’t look for or ask for help. It’s a very worrisome issue, as many people don’t get the help they need.
Last Monday, April 28th, from 9am to 3pm, I got to attend an event called D3SCRAMBL3D: A Mental Health Awareness Event. It was hosted by York University, but was put together and run by my high school. Our drama and health & wellness SHSM students have been working extremely hard for the last year to put together this event in hopes to break the stigma against mental health, hoping to convey a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding it. This event brought together over 600 students from across the York Region District School Board, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.
We spent our morning participating in interactive workshops, which allowed us to express our own thoughts and opinions about mental health. We first got to sit in a lecture hall and be a part of a presentation led by experts from York’s Department of Psychology, and here we learned about different kinds of mental health, including schizophrenia and eating disorders. There were videos, surveys, and polls that made the presentation that must more interesting.
Then, we were part of an interactive presentation held by members of YouthSpeak, an organization that inspires to help other youth, through personal stories of struggle and perseverance. We heard amazing stories from some extremely strong youth who fought their way through mental illness and other struggles; tears were definitely shed in that room. Though, the whole point was to show us that if we must push past any struggles we’re dealing with, as large as they can get, in order to create a better future for ourselves. In other words, never give up.
In addition to the presentations, there were tables and booths set up in a large common area of the university, that contained Bristol boards, pamphlets, handouts, and cards, of different organizations and areas in the region that are able to help with mental illness.
This included Blue Hills Child & Family Centre, Family Services York Region, Eating Disorders of York Region, amongst others. This gave many students information of life-saving resources, in case needed. I believe the reason for this was to show everyone how much help is actually available, and that we should never be afraid to ask for help when needed. Mental illness is not something that will go away overnight; it needs to be looked at and taken care of just like a physical illness would.
After listening to keynote speakers discuss their thoughts on mental health, including Global News weekend anchor Crystal Goomansingh, we finally got to the part that I was waiting for all day- the play. To the Moon and Back is a play completely written and performed by our drama students, offering a unique glimpse into youth perspectives on mental health. My school is known for their amazing drama performances, and as I have seen some previous plays, I was excited for this one. This year, they made it extremely far in the Sears Drama Festival, and even filmed the play for Rogers TV. Well, this definitely held up to the high expectations; it was amazing. Emotional, raw, intense- this play had me crying the whole time.
The story was centered around a teenage girl named Genie, who suffers from social anxiety disorder, and showed many different emotions and thoughts around her condition -from her parents, siblings, classmates, and herself. The play also included many monologues, acting as celebrity personalities who dealt with mental illnesses. It was a breathtaking performance.
After the performance, my school’s vocal and music students performed their own written and composed pieces of music that, once again, made me cry like a little baby. I was stunned at how professional and amazing these songs were! And to think they’re written by students in grades 9-12? Incredible. All of the songs were about mental health, about never giving up, and asking for help for yourself or being there for someone who needs it. I hope everyone went home with some deeper knowledge and understanding of mental health and will apply it to their lives; I know I will.
To add on to my mental health awareness experiences, on Sunday May 4th, I volunteered at the annual Walk So Kids Can Talk in York Region. This event was a 5K walk in support of Kids Help Phone, a free and professional counselling service which supporting young people 24/7, 365 days a year. From issues relating to mental health, family, friends, bullying, or self-struggles, Kids Help Phone is a lifeline that is always available to help.
The walk started at 10am, but I was up and out of the house by 8am, to help set-up and get ready for my volunteer position! I was working next to two girls my age, at the prize stand. Depending on how much money the participants raised, they got ‘thank-you’ prizes, which ranged from a Kids Help Phone hat, to various gifts cards to Indigo, The Source, and Boston Pizza. I was amazing at how much money people collected! Almost every time I handled a paper, I saw ‘$500’ or ‘$1000’ checked off! Everyone was so enthusiastic, friendly, and excited for the walk, despite the cold! (And it was COLD; my hands went numb!)
Despite the cold, I had a great time volunteering! I definitely felt a sense of community there, and it was amazing knowing that people of all ages, families, friends, and individuals, were coming together to support the cause.
So as I mentioned, there are so many resources available if you’re dealing with either a mental health issue, or any other problem. The important thing is to ask for help when you need it, and to be there for someone you know who is going through a hard time. As spoken in To the Moon and Back, “A community has the power to support all members if the community accepts and supports all members inclusively.”