The Medium contacted members of the HCC and UTMental’s current vlogging team to learn more about the UTMental initiative and what makes its fourth season different. The UTMental vloggers for this term are: Maika Seki, Camille Bou, Gurinder Cheema, and Kayla Dias.

The UTMental vloggers for this term are: Maika Seki (a fourth-year biology specialist), Camille Bou (a fourth-year psychology and biology double major), Gurinder Cheema (a fourth-year psychology and biology double major), and Kayla Dias (a first-year Master’s student in cell and systems biology).

This article also features Vanita Clare (a third-year political science and criminology double major, who is also a HCC communications assistant), Kasia Krolak (a fifth-year psychology and biology double major, who is also a peer health education mental health team leader and is responsible for coordinating guest vloggers for UTMental), and Mary Anne Aliazon (a fifth-year biology and psychology double major, with a minor in biomedical communications, who is the UTMental project manager).

The following responses were received over email, and have been edited for both length and clarity.

The Medium: What made you decide to speak up about mental illness?

Maika Seki: It was the stigma that I felt for a long time—especially during high school when my state of mental health was the worst. Stigma keeps people from seeking resources, and I want to help change that.

Camille Bou: I hope that through [UTMental], I can prove to people that mental illnesses are valid illnesses that require just as much care and attention. Another more personal motivation is that recently my little brother was diagnosed with mild ADHD. I can already see his entourage putting him into a box with a label. I want him to grow up without having to worry about that label, that a label doesn’t define him and doesn’t limit his potential one bit. I feel like making these vlogs will help in this matter by exposing how stigma limits people suffering from mental illnesses.

Gurinder Cheema: I joined UTMental to fight the stigma surrounding mental health so that individuals who are suffering in silence can speak up and get the treatment they require. I was someone who suffered in silence for quite a long time, and it was not great. I had serious lows, my grades were plummeting, and my relationships with my friends and family were being destroyed. I didn’t know if it was okay to feel the way I was feeling, or if it was because I was weak. I felt completely isolated from the world, even though there were so many people around me. So, through these videos, I want to offer my hand to those struggling, and let them know that what you are feeling is valid and that you are not alone.

Kayla Dias: The reason I joined UTMental is because of the challenges that people face when dealing with their mental states. I think it also goes beyond the mainstream disorders (like ADHD or bipolar or depression) to daily mental states (like stress and anxiety) that affect us. It is generally difficult to talk to about it because of the stigma that is attached, but initiatives like UTMental allow everyone to know that they are not alone, and encourage others who may be going through situations to join our conversation and seek the help they need.

[TM]: How does this season of UTMental differ from the last?

[MS]: I think that every season is different because of the diversity of vloggers. Each person has different knowledge and experiences to share.

Kasia Krolak: This season, every Friday, there will be a guest vlogger video posted, where different members of staff and faculty at UTM will be sharing their insight on mental health topics. Guest vloggers have been chosen from various departments to provide a diverse perspective.

[TM]: How are the vlogs structured? Are the topics decided beforehand?

[MS]: The general topics are decided beforehand, but we have a lot of freedom in the content. We meet and communicate with one another to share what we want to talk about, and to receive and provide feedback.

[CB]: Every vlogger has a specific day of the week assigned to them, and we will post a total of four vlogs (one each week): an introduction (which is already live), a video about stress, stigma, and resilience (the final video). This year, Kayla is on Mondays, I am on Tuesdays, Gurinder is on Wednesdays, Maika is on Thursdays, and we now have guest vloggers on Fridays.

Vanita Clare: The topics are indeed discussed beforehand, but they are reviewed from year to year and open to suggestions. We structure it so the vloggers have enough freedom to interpret what the topics mean for themselves. They can take their unique experiences, understanding, and various lenses to the broader topics. And we encourage creativity with their vlogs because we want to see the students shine, and we want to see their experiences shine because #UTMental is about the student voice.

Mary Anne Aliazon: We wanted to ensure that the topics have significance and relevance to mental health and the issues surrounding it, and that it would bring about a great conversation-starter within the UTM community, and perhaps even outside the community.

[TM]: Have you thought about what you’ll be discussing in your vlogs?

[GC]: I want my vlogs to combine my personal experiences with mental health, things I’ve learned from those experiences, and things that I’ve learned as a psychology student and peer health educator at UTM.

[KD]: I have an idea of what I’d like to cover in my vlogs, such as an insight into the graduate student life—the ups and the downs and how that affects our mental health.

[TM]: What are you involved in outside of your studies?

[MS]: During my time at UTM, I have been involved in places such as the Womyn’s Coalition to satisfy my passion for striving towards social equity. I also love animals, so I have volunteered for the Toronto Zoo, and a conservancy.

[CB]: I’m currently a Peer Academic Leader on residence, and I am volunteering for various initiatives and projects, such as TEDxUofT, a Community Innovation Project with the Alzheimer’s Society of Peel, as well as the Community Engagement Team on residence (linked with the Centre for Student Engagement).

[GC]: I am a Peer Health Educator on the Mental Health Team, and I am also an undergraduate research assistant in a psychology lab on campus.

[KD]: I am part of a team that tries to improve grad student life and the grad experience on campus through the UTM Association of Graduate Students and Biology Graduate Student Society. I am also passionate about science education, and that’s another thing I work on in my spare time.

[TM]: What advice would you offer to students who are currently dealing with a mental illness or those who are afraid to speak out and share their struggles?

[CB]: For those currently dealing with a mental illness, I would say to keep talking about your struggles, keep sharing your stories, because you are amazing and it shows your strength. By talking about your mental health, you are helping reduce the stigma and the self-stigma that individuals might face. You’re inspiring others to reach out too. You’re indirectly building a community where people don’t feel so alone, where they feel supported, and where they know where to go when things get too much.

[GC]: My advice to these individuals is to find support or a confidant. It took me five years to go to my doctor and tell him how I was feeling, and the first thing he said to me was, “I am so glad you finally told me. I always knew something was wrong, but I wanted you to come and tell me.” I will never forget that moment because of the amount of relief I felt. It felt as though all the pressure had been lifted off my shoulders and now I could finally get the treatment I required. I always regret not going earlier, because I think things could have gotten better sooner, but we all work at our own pace. So take your time, but know that when you are ready to share, there will be so many open arms waiting to embrace you and show you how much you matter.

[VC]: Mental health is a tough topic to talk about given the stigma associated with it, and often the self-stigma as well. So this entire initiative really tries to reduce that stigma and give a voice to those who feel like they don’t have a voice. We want to tell students that they’re not alone with this project, and that UTM is a safe, supportive campus that helps all our students to be healthy and well.

Resources available to all our students include Good2Talk (1-866-925-5454), which is a free and confidential post-secondary helpline available 24/7 that is staffed with trained professional counsellors who can connect you to resources. The HCC itself also has counsellors available on campus to help students with any mental health needs that arise during their time here at UTM, and can also help connect them to resources. They are available for appointments, with a new service this year that provides same-day personal counselling on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, with bookings happening on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. The aim is to make a healthy and supportive campus. #UTMental and all the available resources are part of the vision for UTM.

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