Bell renews mental health research funding

Heather Stuart to continue research with $1 million in support from Bell Let’s Talk Initiative

Former Peer Support Centre Director and mental health advocate Charlotte Johnston speaking to an ample crowd at the announcement.
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On Jan. 24, the atrium of the BioSciences Complex was abuzz. A live band played for numerous attendees dressed in white t-shirts and bright blue toques, there to witness a joint announcement between Queen’s University and Bell Let’s Talk.

Queen’s researcher Heather Stuart, a professor of Community Health and Epidemiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, had her position of Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair reappointed for a second term of 5 years, with another financial backing of $1 million. 

In 2012, when her first term was announced with the same funding, Stuart became the world’s first chair on anti-stigma research. Bell Let’s Talk ranks as the largest corporate mental health initiative in Canada, dominating social media this week during their annual Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Mary Deacon, the Chair of the Bell Let’s Talk initiative, spoke to The Journal about the renewed commitment to Stuart’s work.

“Our motivation was to make sure that we had the benefit of the world leading authority in the area, and we discovered that she was right here at Queen’s,” Deacon said. 

“We wanted to create the Chair to help ensure that this world-leading expert had the funding she needed to continue not only her own research, but to work with students, and to be able to share her findings around the world and across the country.” 

Stuart’s work has resulted in an annual public lecture called Breaking the Silence, which has expanded beyond Kingston to various other cities, and the introduction of ‘5 simple ways to help fight the stigma around mental illness’.

At the announcement, a large crowd included speakers like Rector Cam Yung, ArtSci ’16, Principal Daniel Woolf, former Peer Support Centre director Charlotte Johnston, Con-Ed ’17, Dean of Health Sciences Richard Reznick, and Olympian/mental health advocate Clara Hughes. 

Many discussed the importance of mental health advocacy, with an emphasis on the prevalence of stigma. For Deacon, Stuart’s integration into the Bell team’s discussions has been invaluable. 

“We have a lot of conversations with her, she makes herself available, and she’s a really valuable resource,” Deacon said, “So with the Chair ending, we felt it was absolutely essential to continue the relationship to ensure that we were staying on message with respect to our work to eradicate stigma, but at the same time to make sure that the world got to hear her research.” 

In her speech, Stuart expressed her gratitude to the initiative. She also explained that her research would become youth focused in these next few years, explaining that Canadian youth report experiencing more stigma surrounding their mental health struggles than any other age group. 

“When I see the statistics we’ve been able to create with Statistics Canada, young people — high school and university students — are reporting the most stigma of any age group,” she said. 

“I think we need to give them tools. I don’t know what those are yet, so the job is going to be to figure out what do they need, and how do we supply it in such a way that makes the difference for them.” 

She added that her research will need to go beyond establishing a set of tools as the initiative continues for the next five years. 

“I can create something that I want people in class to use, but how do I get the school boards, the teachers, the university administration across Canada?” she asked.  “How do you get the structures on board, and what needs to be done in terms of knowledge exchange, to get those things in place?” 

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