May 7-13, 2012 is Mental Health Week!
The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week takes place annually in the beginning of May. This week is recognized nationally as an opportunity to open up discussions around mental health and “to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health”. The theme of this year’s Mental Health Week is “Mental Health for All”. This theme is particularly relevant to T.E.A.C.H. as it highlights that mental health issues can affect everyone, including youth. Find more information about Mental Health Week, events, facts, resources and more at http://www.mentalhealthweek.ca/
In honour of Mental Health Week T.E.A.C.H. invited speakers from the Griffin Centre’s ReachOUT program to lead a training session for our volunteers looking at issues around mental health and youth. The ReachOUT program provides services and supports to LGBTQ youth and adults in the Greater Toronto Area. They offer a lot of great programs, and have recently launched a counseling program for LGBTQ youth. Check out more about the Griffin Centre and the ReachOUT program here http://www.griffin-centre.org/reachout.php
The workshop facilitated by ReachOUT was highly informative and touched upon a lot of important issues including exploring stigma and myths around mental health and how these are portrayed in the media. I found this really interesting and enjoyed how the facilitators shared their own perspectives as well as involving the group in analyzing the issues. The workshop also looked at some of the most common mental health issues amongst youth and provided facts and statistics about youth experiences of mental health. One thing we learned in this portion was that LGBTQ people encounter mental health challenges at a higher rate than heterosexual people due to the multitude of stressors they may face.
In the final portion of the workshop, the facilitators utilized a brainstorming exercise to generate a list of potential coping methods. These coping methods ranged from exercise, to enjoying certain foods, to using professional counseling, to meditation and more. I found this exercise effective because it not only provided new and useful ideas for coping, but also served to normalize experiences of mental health issues. It reinforced the idea that we all have different experiences with mental health at different points in our lives because mental health is fluid. This is in line with the view that mental health affects everyone and fits with this week’s theme of “Mental Health for All”.
I think having this workshop and recognizing Mental Health Week is really important. Because of the stigma associated with mental health it is not often discussed openly. Often there is a lot of shame involved in speaking about these topics, as they are seen as negative, or as a personal weakness. As someone who has dealt with mental health challenges I find it really empowering to talk openly and share ideas and experiences, and it feels reassuring to know that I am not the only person dealing with these issues.