Students flocked to the Be Well Fair last Thursday to participate in wellness activities, eat free snacks, and hear Silken Laumann, the Olympian keynote speaker, give an inspirational talk about mental health. 

UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre held the second annual wellness fair inviting motivational speakers, mental health experts, and a variety of wellness programs to the A/B gym.

With over twenty booths, ranging from The Indigenous Network to the Canadian Mental Health Association, students had the opportunity to get information on a variety of mental health and wellness resources.

The event featured many keynote speakers, including U of T medical student Rihanna Zamani, and Sociology professors Melissa Milkie and Scott Schieman.

Silken Laumann gave a motivational speech about overcoming personal struggles and persevering.

Laumann is a retired rowing champion with three Olympic medals and the author of Unsinkable, a memoir about the physical and personal struggles she faced after a brutal rowing accident left her right leg seriously injured. Laumann inspired many Canadians during the 1992 Olympics Games when, a month after her accident, she got back on the racing shell and won the bronze medal. 

At the Be Well Fair, Laumann shared personal stories and talked about when to ask for help, persevering through difficult times, and the idea of “being enough.”

“A fair like this is the first step in getting an individual to reflect on where they are health-wise,” Laumann told The Medium. “There is a mental health crisis that’s been brewing, and acknowledging their success as a student is profoundly impacted by supporting their mental health.”

The booths, overflowing with pamphlets, healthy treats, and helpful guidebooks, invited students to learn more about their mental health and participate in the wellness activities.

“It’s great to know about all of the resources that are available on campus, and also just to relax between classes,” Kaitlyn Harris, a first-year humanities student, said to The Medium. “There are a lot of diverse activities here—there are speakers you can hear, and more interactive things, like the manicures and henna.”

Student feedback on the event was overwhelmingly positive, as were the responses from volunteers, exhibitors, and speakers. Staff members volunteering at the event were constantly on the move, rushing about and taking every opportunity to speak to students.

“Today, a lot of us are looking for self-care strategies,” Anna Piszckiewicz, a representative from self-care app BounceBack said to The Medium. “It’s a difficult time […] So, I think it’s important to really pick up healthy coping strategies and life skills to be able to deal with the challenges we have.”

The event ran for almost five hours and attracted a large crowd.

“It took several months of quite a bit of planning,” Ravinder Gabble, the lead coordinator for the wellness fair, said to The Medium. But when asked if it was worth the effort, Gabble answered with “a resounding yes.”

“With events like this it’s easier to kind of look at it and be like, it’s a one-off thing,” said Gabble. “But you also have to look at it from the perspective of how many students today learned something new?”

Gabble set out to continue the Health and Counselling Centre’s (HCC) annual wellness event that showcases all the resources that UTM students have. He not only found programs that focus on mental health and awareness but took it a step further by including an aspect of multiculturalism into the event.

At the event informational booths like the Indigenous Network and the Hong Fook Mental Health Association discussed mental health situations in relation to specific cultural backgrounds. The organizations provide programs ranging from family support to counselling.

“One of the other cool things we had were the cultural services provided,” Gabble said on the topic. “There are services for people from different backgrounds and who speak different languages. It’s to show that there is help out there for everyone.”

The Be Well Fair provides UTM students a space to reach out, get help, and acquire knowledge about mental health.

“It takes years—this is only the second year [of the Be Well fair]—to build the hype and the momentum where you can have an event that everyone really gets and understands,” said Laumann. “I can see it growing in popularity in the coming years.”

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