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Students Against Stigma held a variety of events to educate its attendees about mental health. Photo: Marta Kierkus.

Event featured gala, workshops, speakers to spur talks on factors of mental health

The Students Against Stigma Series, an event put on by a number of federated bodies with the help of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), looked to make an impact by spreading awareness of the stigma that often surrounds mental health issues.

The series, which took place on campus Jan. 27–29, featured a number of events—including a gala, various speakers, as well as workshops and panels to help attendees learn to better identify and react to mental health issues, and facilitate discussion.

“Lots of mental health campaigns talk about depression and anxiety, but we don’t usually talk about what factors play into that,” said Caylie McKinlay, vice-president philanthropy of the International, Political and Policies Studies Student’ Association (IPPSSA), and the series’ primary director.

The sold-out, main event of the series was the gala, with all proceeds from the ticket sales going to the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa, and sponsoring students interested in taking assist or safe talk training, billed as suicide prevention workshops.

Hosted on campus at 1848, the gala included food as well as presentations by Chris Nihmey, an author, mental health activist and a spokesperson for the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. Nihmey has advocated against stigma against mental health issues, and communicated his own experiences with bipolar disorder.

“We had a lot of presentations that were very heartwarming, and really gave a different perspective,” said Roméo Ahimakin, vice-president services and communications of the SFUO.

In addition to the gala, there were workshops and panels on a variety of topics, living with mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community to dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

There was also a discussion that centred around Bell Let’s Talk, a social media-based campaign which looks to raise money and awareness for mental illness, and how to most effectively address mental health issues.

“What we were trying to do with these workshops was take an edge of mental health discourse that doesn’t usually happen,” said McKinlay. “We were trying to talk about these issues in a more holistic way.”

Hadi Wess, vice-president social of the SFUO, said the SFUO was extremely happy with the event. “It was just a wonderful show that included a lot of conversations,” he said. “Our main goal is to dismantle the stigma and the stereotypes around mental health.”