Queen’s faces of mental illness: MIAW 2014

As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Lifestyle is featuring personal stories from Queen’s students each day from Oct. 6-10. We'll be continuing the initiative throughout the year with monthly stories. If you’re interested in submitting a story, please email journal_lifestyle@ams.queensu.ca.

A few months ago, the acronym MIAW meant nothing to me. To most people, I’m sure it’s still just as meaningless.

But Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) shouldn’t be just another acronym. It shouldn’t be another insignificant week in October. What it should be is a reminder that mental illness is everywhere, touching those who suffer and even those who are affected indirectly.

What’s vital is that we carry this conversation of mental illness well beyond the scope of a week. Awareness is just the beginning.

We’ve come a long way here at Queen’s. The open discussions surrounding mental health are ongoing, whether through student groups, health services or administration. I’m consistently pleased with the growing attention this issue receives.

However, as someone who suffers from mental illness — I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 15 — what I found lacking on campus was a personal connection. Even after disclosing my own experience in a Journal Postscript story this February, I struggled to find others who were willing to talk. That’s not to say these voices weren’t existing; they just didn’t seem to be openly available as I imagined them to be.

I knew others were suffering, as the mental illness statistics are staggeringly obvious, yet it seemed hard to find these individuals. MIAW was the opportune moment to fix this issue. The goal behind Lifestyle’s initiative is to bring forth the stories of fellow students in an accessible, embracing place to showcase the immense prevalence on campus.

For the next week, we’ll be publishing students’ stories of mental illness, ranging from depression to eating disorders to suicide, and more. We’ve compiled resources and statistics regarding mental health at Queen’s, but most importantly, we want to share the spotlight.

Additionally, we’ll be posting a personal story each day, with the hopes of extending the discussion beyond the week.

There’s nothing more terrifying than exposing a perceived vulnerability, and that’s exactly what these individuals are doing. In my eyes, they’re the epitome of sheer strength, bravery and fearlessness. Although the spotlight is on their unique voices, I know they speak on behalf of a larger group of students who remain silenced by mental illness.

There’s a tendency to internalize mental illness. Feelings of shame and worthlessness overpower the need to seek support from others. Don’t let that happen.

If there’s one thing we can all learn, it’s that mental illness is a much-needed topic of conversation. It’s only stigmatized because we create that illusion of negativity. These individuals shared their own stories — and you can too.

Queen’s is bursting with opportunities to seek help, give advice and learn more about mental illness. But perhaps the greatest source of inspiration comes from our fellow peers. Mental illness has a face and it’s everywhere around us.

[View the story "Queen's faces of mental illness: MIAW 2014" on Storify]

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