Campaign misses the mark

Queen's Wears Green must address fundamental flaws in order to truly erase the stigma surrounding mental health issues

Queen's Wears Green t-shirts are being sold at several locations around campus this week.
Queen's Wears Green t-shirts are being sold at several locations around campus this week.

While the recent mental health campaign Queen’s Wears Green is well-intentioned, it fails to address the negative stigma that often isolates those with mental illness.

Great caution must be taken when attempting to liberate or aid a group separate than the self, for fear of further ostracizing or misrepresenting them.

There are many causes today amassing great support. While this eagerness to affect change and do good is a positive thing, we have to remember to pause and challenge ourselves.

Those participating in Queen’s Wears Green need to do just this. At its most pure and honest level, the project symbolizes solidarity, unity and an attempt at encouraging a safe space for those with mental health issues.

As someone who has personally struggled with mental health issues, I know very well how important that support is. But while Queen’s Wears Green deals with the stigma, the message starts to become unclear.

Countless times I have read and heard the phrase “end the stigma.” Of course, those who suffer from mental health issues, myself included, wish for that day to come. However, Queen’s Wears Green isn’t actually taking any direct action to this end.

The event focuses on caring for those oppressed by the stigma but doesn’t address the stigma itself.

Putting an end to the stigma surrounding mental health issues isn’t a simple task. We need to clarify, first of all, what the stigma around mental health is.

I would argue, in fact, that there are several stigmas. The stigmas center on false impressions, assumptions, fear and lack of education. Then there are those constructed on outright ignorance towards mental disabilities.

The stigmas are less defined by the actual people dealing with the issues and more by the misconceptions held by others. Removing stigmas then requires education. The only way to re-educate is to get people talking about the issues.

Here is where Queen’s Wears Green, then, falls short. It claims to be doing something it’s not. If the initiative wishes to eliminate stigmas, it’s going to take much more than wearing a shirt.

Wearing that shirt comes with huge responsibility. It immediately makes you a representative of those struggling with mental health issues.

Wearing that shirt means that you must educate yourself so that you can educate others during the rally and following the conclusion of the campaign on Nov. 4.

It’s not enough simply to show support. According to a recent paper by the Canadian Mental Health Association, mass public information campaigns “will not necessarily change attitudes, which can be strongly fixed, especially if they are based on fear.”

The Association states, “Although it may be tempting to use a single broad-based program to try to change the way people think and act, studies suggest that these types of mass campaigns are not as successful as those that are more tightly focused.”

We need to start viewing people with mental health issues on an equal plane rather than just as others who need help.

Queen’s Wears Green is also limited in that it often takes a narrow focus towards mental health issues. By primarily addressing depression and anxiety, the campaign ignores the countless other mental disabilities affecting the Queen’s community.

Part of erasing the stigmas is being inclusive when speaking about the plurality of issues.

When we talk about mental illness, and claim to end the stigmas, let’s remember not to fall into the stereotypes of the issues themselves. Let’s not label and simplify mental health issues with a few incongruous statistics — as seen in a promotional video — but instead create an environment of information, education and support.

To the organizers of Queen’s Wears Green: let’s not only stand in solidarity, but also work towards ending the stigmas around mental health issues so that those we love and support can live in a world free of the socially-created stigmas.

Take the power of the platform and the amazing support the community is giving, and really create change.

Despite the potential of Queen’s Wears Green to create real change in the attitudes and beliefs of Queen’s students, I fear that Nov. 4 will become yet another example of people rallying around a cause that affects no change. Come Nov. 5 when the green shirts are put away, I don’t want advocacy for mental health to be yesterday’s cause.

As a person coping with mental illness and therefore a subject of this initiative, I call on the student body to think more critically about the way we address mental health issues at Queen’s. Queen’s Wears Green is a good initiative, but must address these fundamental flaws if it hopes to truly erase the stigmas.

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