It is so common to reduce mental illnesses down to biology and to forget the social aspects that those facing these illnesses endure on a day-to-day basis. Words like crazy, scary, lazy, and useless are words that we often associate with mental illnesses, all words that Students for Mental Wellness are fighting against.
Students for Mental Wellness is a club at Simon Fraser University, open to students and the wider community, hoping to “support those whose lives are affected by mental illness” and “educate themselves, individuals, families and the community about mental health, living with a mental illness, and striving for wellness”. It is not just educating the public on how to treat people in terms of discrimination, but to help those living with an illness to see themselves differently, and not let their mental conditions define them.
A survey conducted in 2007 revealed that of 4,000 SFU students, 17.5% of students reported experiencing depression, 12.2% had an anxiety disorder, 10.4% experienced seasonal affective disorder, and 18% of these particular respondents said that their mental health condition affected their academic performance. As youth, it may be even tougher facing a mental illness when school work is stressful as others may treat you differently.
Founder and Co-President of Students for Mental Wellness, Taylor Kagel, has been highly involved in the club since September 2008 and is the major force behind incorporating SMW as a not-for-profit organization. Upon his entrance to SFU in Computer Science, he faced both depression and anxiety but has grown to encourage others, including politicians to open up about their challenges with mental health. He believes this will aid the goal of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“Opening up about my mental health issues was what I needed to commit to in order to help open up the dialogue. By opening up the dialogue, hopefully we can remove some of that stigma. If an MP or a politician of some sort came out and said they have some sort of mental illness that would be a huge milestone. That would just catalyze things incredibly. “ – Taylor