UTMental kicked off its second season in January with a new group of vloggers. The vlogs show UTM students discussing mental health issues in order to raise awareness and challenge the stigma associated with mental health. This week I corresponded with health education coordinator Chad Jankowski and third-year psychology major, CTEP student, and vlogger Jordan Foster to talk about the program.
The Medium: What are you doing to fight the stigma against mental illness?
Chad Jankowski: Mental health stigma presents a barrier to students seeking help when needed. The Health and Counselling Centre helps to challenge that stigma by providing mental health training to the UTM community through the outreach of the Peer Health Education team and through projects like UTMental.
Jordan Foster: Mental health stigma prevents our families, friends, and peers from seeking the help they need. As a UTMental vlogger, it is my intention to challenge that stigma by providing honest insights into my own journey with mental illness.
TM: What made you decide to speak up about mental illness?
JF: Mental illness is a topic that is of particular interest to me, as both myself and many people close to me have struggled with mental health. I wanted to be honest about my experience in the hopes that others in need of help might feel less alone and more inclined to seek help.
TM: What did you do for Bell Let’s Talk Day last month?
CJ: The Health and Counselling Centre organized a mental health resource fair that brought together campus and community resources available to support students. The fair included organizations like Good2Talk (Ontario’s 24-hour postsecondary student helpline), Partners for Mental Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association, St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs, and Peel Public Health.
TM: What do you plan to accomplish with the second season of UTMental? How does this season differ from the first?
CJ: I see the second season of UTMental as a way to add more student voices to the conversation about mental health. The weekly themes haven’t changed between seasons (introductions, stress, stigma, the “5 Ways to Wellbeing”), but we have an entirely new group of vloggers.
CJ: Since everyone experiences mental health differently, these new voices offer new stories and new perspectives. Hopefully everyone will be able to find something in their stories that they can either relate to or learn from.
TM: Why video blogging? How did you choose which topics to discuss and who was best to vlog about said topics?
CJ: I was inspired to create a video blogging project because of the way I’ve seen YouTube communities form around other vloggers (especially the VlogBrothers) and other collaborative channels. The video platform was also appealling because it’s a way viewers can connect with the vloggers by seeing and hearing them share their stories. We also opted for student-driven vlogs rather than scripted videos because we felt it was important that the vloggers speak frankly about their experiences as students rather than being spokespeople for the Health and Counselling Centre. The weekly themes were agreed on by the team ahead of time, but each vlogger chose how they would speak to those themes.
TM: What did you find helped you in dealing with your own personal journey with mental illness?
CJ: As a student, I benefited from the support of one of the personal counsellors on campus and was grateful for the instructors who made accommodations to help me through a difficult time. I’m really fortunate that I now have a job where I can both play a role in connecting people with help and advocate for greater mental health resources for students.
TM: What advice would you give to students dealing with mental illness who are too afraid to speak out because of the negative connotations surrounding the discussion of mental illnesses?
CJ: Unfortunately, mental health stigma does exist within our society, so disclosing a mental illness, like coming out, needs to be a personal decision. There isn’t a need to struggle in silence, though. The services provided at the Health and Counselling Centre are confidential and non-judgmental, so students can seek our personal support there. Another option is to seek out supportive communities like UTMSU’s peer-to-peer support group or UTMental. Online communities can provide greater anonymity, so those can often be great options for students concerned about stigma.
JF: It is difficult to disclose a mental health illness and harder still to ask for help. I think that a major barrier to speaking out about one’s mental illness is that others might perceive you as “disordered” or “crazy”. My greatest fear is that others will regard me with a patronizing but well-meaning pity. However, in my experience this is not often the case. Societal perceptions of mental illness are quickly changing and the more we encourage honest conversations around mental health, the more apparent these changes become. I think it is very important that students be honest both with themselves and with others.
You can watch the second season of UTMental online at youtube.com/utmHCC.
You direct a “stigma?”
Who taught you to do so? Is this a part of your college curricula?
Definitely a lesson to reject.
I think “stigma” is lazy word choice, but I give the speaker the benefit of the doubt about meaning something like this: That many people have a prejudiced perception of those who live with mental illness, believing that the illness somehow results from a defect of the will and devalues the person’s humanity, or (maybe with less ill will) that the person is simply incapable of many things—like holding a job, raising a family, accurately representing their memory, and more.
In my experience this sort of prejudice does exist and creates unnecessary hardships for those who live with mental illness (but we could compare anecdotes all day).
After a look through your other comments, if I read them right, I think you contend that this prejudice is actually reinforced by its being mentioned and constantly addressed. Maybe so, but people need to recognize their habits before they can change them—hopefully it’s one step back, two steps forward…
The project here just puts a face to what might otherwise be considered “the other” in the hopes of uprooting the assumptions about them. I’m all in support of that.
If you care to be less elliptical, could you explain why you think that aim is misguided?
Thank you for the response.
The word prejudice best addresses the issue. It is concrete, and addressable in law.
The ADA says you may not discriminate against any disability, Directing this prejudice against any disability is a breach of that law.
Strangely, no college or university recognizes that law —in this one instance. Try it on campus with deafness, blindness, paralysis, and the response will be immediate. Do it with mental illnesses, and the silence is disquieting.
The victim of a prejudice knows it is that, the personal practicing the prejudice claims the flaw is not in her/him, but in the person at whom she/he directs the prejudice.
No university should teach a “stigma,” it is a breach of ethics, and no university personnel or student should accept one being taught.
Call it prejudice, that is what it is. I am sure there is an office of equality there, address this prejudice though them. They have not done so, be the catalyst that brings them to do so.