Meet the students behind mental health conversations on campus

Student-driven initiatives talk advocacy and education

The podcast Why Me? looks at different aspects of mental health.  
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As mental health struggles abound, some students have taken peer support upon themselves.

Several student-run groups and services now address the stigma around seeking support for mental health. However, until recently, the topic could often be met with confusion among students.

For one, poor mental health can be deceivingly common on campus. A 2016 National College Health Assessment at Queen’s found 20.1 per cent of students reporting anxiety, with another 15 per cent citing depression. An additional 12.7 per cent said they had seriously considered suicide within 12 months of the assessment.

One student, Jake Bradshaw, ArtSci ’20, decided to start a podcast to address this in August called Why Me?. The show offers an honest look at mental health from a student's perspective.

Bradshaw had the idea to profile the different sides of mental health after recovering from the roughest parts of his own journey.

Bradshaw left school during first semester of second year to deal with his mental health struggles when they were the most challenging. He wrote an article for The Journal about his choice to leave, and decided he wanted to share his experiences from then on with his peers.

"I wanted to share some of what I’d learned with other people, with the hope of giving them hope and [helping] them develop strategies to [cultivate] a mental well-being," Bradshaw told The Journal.

He said sharing the bad with the good could make it easier for students to support each other, and to reach out when they’re in distress.

"It's easy to say to someone, 'You can always talk to me,' but I think it's more effective if you are actually honest and open to them," Bradshaw said.

In most podcast episodes, Bradshaw features different guests, from a life coach to a fellow student. Some of his shows also focus on issues or questions we may have about mental health—like the true impact of exercise on mental well-being.

Meanwhile, on the club level, Danielle Leroux, ConEd ’19, aims to raise awareness as co-chair of the Mental Health Awareness Committee (MHAC). She's a firm believer in physical health’s contribution to mental health.

The committee aims to raise awareness about mental health and illnesses on campus. It has eight sub-committees, all focused on different facets of mental health. Athletics, for example, focuses on the connection between mental and physical health.

It’s completely student-run, according to Bianca Naim, ArtSci ’20, the other co-chair of MHAC. It encourages students to approach mental health from any angle, from their free zumba and yoga classes to raising awareness through a Speaker Series.

The committee also created a new campus outreach group this year, which can provide mental health training to student leaders on campus.

"Every year, the students on each sub-committee get the autonomy to run events they're interested in," Leroux said.

Both Leroux and Naim believe the committee's constant presence is important to keep the discussion of mental health going year-round, not only around exams or days like Bell Let's Talk.

"Right after Bell Let's Talk day, all conversation on mental health [comes] to a halt," Leroux said.

"It's really heavy to have all of those discussions all at once and then with no follow-up afterwards,” Naim concurred.

Leroux added that, through encouraging continual discussion, "the conversation gets a little bit easier."

Some students may want to share their experience, but the gravity of mental health can often make public discussion frightening. If they feel more comfortable one-on-one, students can go to the Peer Support Centre (PSC) on campus to talk through their struggles.

The centre's volunteers offer to lend an ear to whatever their peers may want to share. Its volunteers and executives are all students.

The service emerged initially from the office of the Social Issues Commissioner, according to Mia Berloni, ArtSci ’19, head manager of the PSC.

Recently, the service expanded to two rooms in the JDUC after experiencing high demand.

Berloni believes students offer a unique form of support because they can relate to what their peers are going through more easily than a counsellor, for example.

While the PSC isn't a substitute for professional counselling, it's a good middle ground for students who don't feel comfortable sharing serious issues with housemates but aren't ready for professional help.

Andie Rexdiemer, ArtSci ’20, one of the PSC's Marketing Coordinators, said the service can help mitigate the "intimidation factor" that can prevent individuals from pursuing expert help.

"It can be certainly less intimidating to go in and chat with someone who might feel like a friend," Rexdeimer said.

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