Initiated during the fall 2020 semester, the Mental Health Advocacy Committee is now in full swing
In recent years, the mental health movement has drastically improved its visibility. Awareness of mental health has grown even more since the start of the pandemic, mostly due to the drastic life changes and widespread isolation felt for the last eighteen months; slowly but surely, more and more people are realizing how important their mental wellbeing is to them.
However, stigma around mental health still remains. Tichina Williams and Izabella Blazonis are the co-chairs of Concordia’s Mental Health Advocacy Committee (MHAC), who hope to phase out some of this stigma.
“Our main goal,” said Tichina, “is to get people talking about their mental health. We want people to get to a place where there is no shame around depression or anxiety.” Through their Instagram account, the MHAC shares a list of resources available for all Concordia students. It offers access to Concordia’s wide range of mental health specialists, wellness programs, and the MHAC’s own workshops. “We’re having a workshop on burnout on Oct. 18, and we like to do them pretty frequently,” said Blazonis.
“Development of this group began in the fall of 2020,” explained Williams. “We had seen what devastating effects months of isolation had done to people’s mental wellbeing.”
The process of creating MHAC has been quite the experience, according to the co-chairs. “Our biggest hurdle was attracting a diverse pool of participants,” said Blazonis. “Stigma is still so present, unfortunately.” The committee works under the Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA), which is helping spread the word, getting students involved. “We’re always in the ASFA newsletters,” Blazonis mentioned. As of now, the committee is composed of two co-chairs and two team members, but MHAC hopes to expand in the near future. They hope to accomplish this by growing their social media presence, increasing their event frequency and size, and attempt to slowly erode at students’ oftentimes adamant attitudes towards mental health.
“One of the clearest examples I can think of when describing what mental health stigma really looks like was during Frosh this fall,” said Williams, who proceeded to describe how some students reacted to the MHAC booth. “We had our table all set up, we were giving people all our information, but some people were cracking jokes.”
“For many people, it was like talking about mental health was such a ridiculous concept, but we know how good it is for people’s wellbeing,” said Williams.
The MHAC hopes to achieve one principle goal: accessibility. For many students, there may be additional hurdles to getting the help they need. The committee is run by students, for students. It hopes to be a friendlier and more approachable group in comparison to the large and sometimes daunting departments at Concordia that deal with mental health issues. Due to the stigma surrounding seeking help, approaching what may feel like a more official, less personal, and more bureaucratic system directly can be overwhelming for some dealing with issues like social anxiety.
“As much as depression, anxiety, and other issues can seem scary, they become less so when you’re a part of a team,” explained Blazonis. “We have had several virtual workshops last winter and summer semesters, and we’re continuing this fall. We’ve covered topics like nutrition, substance abuse, burnout from school, and several others.”
The primary methods for contacting the MHAC are through Instagram and Facebook. The committee wants to make communication between students in need as simple as possible, so student outreach is a key factor for them.
“It’s okay to ask for help,” said Williams. “Admitting you need help and that you want to see your health improve is the first step to dealing with your issues. We hope students are taking care of themselves in these crazy times. We want people to know that we are here for them if ever they need assistance.”
Visuals provided by the Mental Health Advocacy Committee