October 27th 2010
There are always events going on in our student life centre at UW. People attempting to educate you on their cause, recruit you for a psychology experiment, or sell you on some awesome new product. Walking into the student life centre today was different though. The boards gathered around the centre of the seating area, with students gathered outside of it. There was a sea of orange shirts gathered around, waiting to educate curious individuals on the boards behind them. But few ventured in, those who did quickly ran through the display avoiding eye conduct with the orange shirts. What could cause such a reaction you ask? Well its mental health and wellness day. At no time in my life have a seen the stigma against having mental health issues so obvious, so out in the open. As time passed, people started to come in and look at the boards, and the speakers took the stage. Two psychologists educating people about mental health issues the signs and the appropriate actions individuals can take to make themselves mentally healthy. People’s voices grew louder and louder, talking over the psychologists. It was almost as if they were avoiding the topic, or bored out of their mind. Either way this exemplifies the issues with educating people on mental health. Mainly, how do you make it interesting? How do you make people feel okay talking about it?
I pondered this as I took the stage, nervous about what the passive listeners sitting around the displays would think. The active audience, sitting within the displays would listen, they wouldn’t judge, they would be respectful. They however, were not my main concern. Would those sitting around the displays get up and leave, or speak even louder to ignore my message? Or would they listen and silently judge me for the issues I have dealt with in my life. I had no idea, and I was terrified. I started speaking, telling my story like I have done hundreds of times before, but for the first time ever to those who may not have any interest in hearing it. To those who may have never heard such things. To the “normals”. I should also mention that this was the first time in the history of UW that a student was allowed to tell a story of a suicide attempt in such a public forum. It was the first time, my first time and I was first. It was bloody terrifying.
Something started to happen though. They started to get quiet and very few people got up and left. When I finished people applauded, but not only those who expected to hear this story, people around the display clapped as well. The unwilling listeners clapped. My supervisor came to stage and hugged me. Crying. I have never felt so accepted and so heard in my entire life. Walking off stage I got hugs from my co-workers and friends and people came and talked to me about my story. I felt like I had done something good. People were finally talking about it. The girl who spoke after me, with a very similar story that we see far too often got a similar response. People felt okay to come speak to the orange shirts now, they were okay with learning. Whatever was stopping them before, well now it was gone.
I hope they continue to run this event, let people tell their stories and make people feel okay about talking about it. I hope that if someone is suffering but cant bring themselves to talk to someone, hearing another’s story will motivate them to do something. Even picking up a pamphlet can help them feel less alone.
I am amazed the number of people who went and talked to counseling services, the mental health researchers or even just talking amongst themselves about it. I feel like events like this really help people get the ball rolling and I hope that its continued for many years to come J
Alicia S. R.