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UNBSU Coffee House raises awareness during Mental Health Week

A coffee house held on Tuesday, Oct. 7 saw some 45 students gather in UNB’s Blue Lounge to raise awareness about mental illness. The event was organized by the Student Union’s mental health committee and featured musical performances, free coffee and a chance to keep the conversation going around mental illness.

Alyssa Whelan was one of the directors of the event and is also a member of the mental health committee. The event was the first of several that took place during Mental Health Awareness Week. Whelan said it was a good opportunity for students to come out of their shell and enjoy themselves in an open, friendly environment.

“For someone who’s suffering from any kind of mental health issue, they aren’t inclined to come out and say it to just anybody they meet. There’s definitely a stigma around it.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, this stigma is what keeps 49 per cent of the Canadian population from seeing a doctor about their mental health issues. It’s also what sparked the #mydefinition campaign at UNB, which features posters of students and professors alike who are experiencing some form of mental illness.

The posters’ layout is akin to a dictionary definition: there’s a phonetic breakdown of their name, three or four positive characteristics and finally, a description of their mental health issue.  This final characteristic is crossed out — symbolizing that although mental illness might be a part of who they are, it does not define them.

“It’s putting out there any kind of illness they’re suffering from saying ‘this is not labelling me,’ ” explained Whelan.

Robyn Young performed at the coffee house on Tuesday night and is one of the featured students in #mydefinition.  For her, singing is a way to deal with the stress of being a fourth-year psychology student.  Hailing from a small town in Newfoundland, Young is all too familiar with the stigma surrounding mental illness — she wasn’t really open about her problems until she came to university in Fredericton.

“It’s been really great getting involved.  I have my  [#mydefinition] poster up on Facebook and a lot of people from back home are seeing it and liking it and becoming aware, not knowing I had all these struggles when I lived there.”

Young is also part of the Student Union mental health committee, volunteering and helping out whenever she can.  Despite her hectic schedule, Young poured her heart into Mental Health Awareness Week.  When she heard about the coffeehouse, the psych major says it was something she jumped right on board with.

“People know that I’ve struggled — that’s great because now I don’t feel like I’ve got to cover up or hide if I’m having a crappy day.  It’s [no longer] a sense of having to hide until I go home and completely exhaust myself because I’ve been smiling all day.”

Other events during Mental Health Awareness week included a “stigma slam” and a discussion panel on mental health issues, to name a few.  The events were geared toward making mental illness a topic of discussion, and to let students know they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and discuss their problems with fellow students, proctors or a don.

Says Young, “There are some people who don’t have that really good friend they can sit down with and talk to, and in those cases they should really think about reaching out.  The key is putting it all out there.”

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