Mental health and everything that comes with it is a vast subject with many different areas of interest. It can often be overwhelming for someone dealing with mental illness, or even someone trying to help another afflicted person.
This is where Active Minds UWO comes in. Last Thursday's panel, "Meet Your Support," aimed to illuminate the issues and services available at Western.
The panel, running from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in UCC Room 315, hosted a selection of Western’s mental health professionals. They included Andrew Soave, a counsellor at the Student Development Centre (SDC); Kathryn Dance, a psychologist at the SDC; Cynthia Gibney, a director at Student Health Services; and Melanie-Anne Atkins, the co-ordinator at the Wellness Education Centre (WEC).
“Our mission is to open up the conversation about mental health and to de-stigmatize all the perceptions around mental illness,” says Ryan Henderson, a third-year BMOS student and club president. These panelists worked to do just that, giving small speeches on their individual roles within Western’s community before giving over to a general Q&A session.
An important part of the panel was the differences between the various services offered at Western as well as outside resources like those in the community, or even meditation apps like Muse or Meditation Studio. The focused on the breadth of options available to any student who might be struggling.
These options become more and more important as mental health becomes a more prevalent issue in society. While Student Health Services covers a wide range of health services besides mental health, “Over the last few years, these issues have become increasingly a problem,” says Gibney. “So I would say it is almost 50 per cent of the work that the physicians are doing together.”
“You’re probably tired of hearing this, but it’s very true that prevention is really the basic things of eating well, sleeping well, exercising and maybe some kind of wellness practice,” Dance remarked.
One of the larger issues touched upon was what was described as the ‘us vs. them’ mentality regarding the long wait times for these services, as “last year we had 65,000 student visits and around 4,000 no shows,” says Gibney.
It becomes trickier when dealing with a student in crisis. “If you are in crisis we will see you immediately,” says Soave. Yet crisis is a broad term. “For some people it means homelessness, dropping out of school or suicidal ideation. It’s very individualized.”
This mentality is not unique to Western; according to Soave, there is a three-month waiting list in the private practices in London.
“There’s a social problem around mental health, not just a Western one. We need to address it,” revealed Dance.
The WEC will be adding more resources to exam stress counselling, with particular attention paid to “the need to take ourselves seriously in terms of how we treat ourselves," says Atkins. This extends not just to “the 20 per cent who have mental illness but also the 80 per cent who don’t,” as her philosophy of self-care was emphasized by all throughout.
The event was closed with the announcement of a $300 donation to the Craig Sandre Soph Foundation, a fitting end to a talk that strove to shine a light on all the services and issues surrounding the mental health of Western’s students.