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Stopping stigma: one week at a time

Mental Health Awareness Week is coming to UNB campus for the first time with the hopes of stemming the stigmatization of mental illness.

The week will be a collaborative effort made by the UNB Student Union, student services and counselling services.

“It’s a community-based approach,” said Kathleen Pye, the mental health strategist and counselling therapist at UNB.

The week runs from Oct. 5 to 11 with scheduled events occurring each day.

“Tuesday we’re going to be having a coffee house. People who are playing are more than welcome to talk about their own experiences but it’s also just kind of a nice, low-key event,” said Lee Thomas, vice-president internal of the UNBSU.

“Some of the events during this week might be emotionally intense or draining for people so we really wanted something that lets everybody come out and have a good time,” she said.

Also on Tuesday is a panel talk, hosted by STU at the Kinsella auditorium. The coffee house and panel talk will both take place at 7 p.m. in the auditorium as a double-feature event.

On Wednesday, counselling services will be running the Stress Circus — a “stop the stigma” event from noon to 4 p.m. in the SUB atrium. Students are invited to bring items that have been weighing them down, such as an ex’s sweater, and finally get rid of them.

Thomas’s “My Definition” campaign will also have a part in the week’s programs.

“We’ll also be having a My Definition Photo Shoot on Wednesday. People can write down their own version of their My Definition poster and get a picture taken. If they’re comfortable with it we’ll put those up on our website and if they’re not they’ll have that picture for themselves,” Thomas said.

On Thursday, UNB will welcome STU alumnus Mark Henick as the week’s key note speaker. Henick recently did a few TEDx events in Toronto and his “Why We Choose Suicide” talk has received great reviews. This event will take place at 7 p.m. in the Marshall d’Avray auditorium.

Some events will be running continuously throughout the week as well. One of these is a “baggage drop” where students can drop off the things weighing on their minds by writing them down.

“We’re also doing a post-it secret style project that’ll be going on all week. We’ll have baggage drop boxes so people can drop whatever emotional baggage they’re carrying by writing down their secrets on little cue cards. Then we’re going to be posting them, anonymously, on a bulletin board in the SUB,” Thomas said.

The idea for the week arose out of the need to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“One of the biggest issues about mental health is that it’s still so stigmatized. People don’t want to talk about it,” said Pye.

Stigmatization and a lack of knowledge are key factors as to why mental illnesses in university students go untreated.

“They come to university and think that if they’re struggling a lot then it’s just because they can’t hack it. They don’t realize that what they’re struggling with is a mental illness. They’re so ashamed that they can’t cut it and everyone else can,” Thomas said.

“Hopefully [through Mental Health Awareness Week] we’ll make campus a more accepting community for people who struggle with mental health,” Pye said.

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