Co-ordinators Terry Wang, second from the left, and Gordon Forrest, second from the right, with Rideau-Vanier Councillor Mathieu Fleury, centre. Photo: Provided
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Students band together to promote mental health awareness, partner with CMHA Ottawa

With the new academic year in full swing, stress levels are rising all around campus. A group of students from the University of Ottawa have taken the initiative to bring focus to mental health with the help of some of the city’s favourite burger joints.

“University is a stressful environment, and from being in that environment, it is clear to us (that mental health) is a major issue,” Gordon Forrest, one of the event’s organizers, says in an email to the Fulcrum. 

The Ottawa Burger Fest was a weeklong event that ran from Sept. 9-15 where a group of students, mainly from the U of O, brought together several eating establishments to launch the cross-city feast. 

Participating restaurants, including Burgers n’ Fries Forever, The King Eddy and The Wellington Diner, served either pre-existing or new burger menu items. A portion of the money from burger sales was then donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Ottawa branch to help fund mental health awareness campaigns and programs.

Ottawa Burger Fest took a unique approach to fundraising, where participants were encouraged to enjoy the hospitality of the restaurant branches instead of having street vendors gathered together. Not only did this allow for a larger range of accessibility, but consumers were also encouraged to enjoy their time sitting down to eat and reflect on current mental health issues, the organizers say.

But why burgers?

Forrest says “everyone loves a burger, so that made it a marketable idea.” 

Co-organizer Terry Wang says their team views mental health as a preventable issue and knows the effects first-hand from studying and working in the hospitality industry. 

The Ottawa Burger Fest team says they were met with great success and positive community feedback considering this year was the events’ first.

“We have been met with some amazing encouragement and we could not be more thankful,” says Forrest. 

Wang shares that the team wishes for mental health to be treated like any visible injury. 

“We want the conversation around mental health to be open, free, and welcoming — there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to discussing mental health, and you aren’t ‘weak’ for opening up about your struggles. The hardest part of dealing with mental health is acknowledging it and getting help, so we want to make sure everyone is comfortable doing so.”

The group encourages U of O students and all members of the community to take initiative and stand up for mental health and awareness. 

“Don’t be afraid to fight for, and support the causes and initiatives you believe in — get out there, experience the world, and find what motivates you,” says Wang.