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New workshop takes closer look at mental health

[Mike Condra]
Mike Condra, Director of Health, Counseling and Disability Services, who will be one of the instructors at a new mental health workshop being offered by HCDS. University Communications

Alongside their already existing services and training courses, Health, Counseling and Disability Services are offering a new mental health workshop. A more in-depth treatment of mental health issues than what is currently available, the workshop provides a three-hour lesson in subjects such as understanding the range and elements of mental illness.

"We’ve identified three topics that we want to focus on for this workshop: awareness, stigma reduction and effective responses. To cover all three requires a greater amount of time than we usually allot,” says Dr. Mike Condra, Director of HCDS, who will be one of the workshop’s instructors. “The workshop will have less lecturing and greater opportunities for involvement from those participating. We want to convey what the experience is of someone with a mental health issue and train people to be more comfortable so they can provide better support to those affected.”

The Provost’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health (PACMH) recently released its first annual report, highlighting Queen’s accomplishments and making recommendations for action over the next two years.

The workshop was created after the recommendation of the Mental Health Working Group, who have consulted on the development of the training. For Queen’s, which has resources and services available for individuals with mental health issues, the first step to wellness is promoting an informed community who feel equipped to deal with mental health issues.

“When you don’t have the words to understand something, the reaction is often one of fear, and so you engage in distancing behaviours that make you feel safe,” says Dr. Condra. “In the past this has led to dangerous stigma, causing many people to be side-lined and marginalized. For many years it was a tremendous risk to even acknowledge a mental health issue and I’m happy we now have more people discussing it openly and seeking help. We want to encourage people to think of mental health problems as being simply health problems, connected to one’s overall wellness.”

The stigma the workshops are aiming to reduce comes in two forms, social and self. Social stigma comes from the attitudes and beliefs of a culture in general, while self-stigma is the internalization of those beliefs in an individual. “If you live in a culture where a mental health problem is believed to be indicative of weakness, then it’s likely you’ll adopt those beliefs yourself,” says Dr. Condra. “If you find yourself suffering from a mental health problem, it can present a serious barrier to getting care. When people with mental health issues are ostracized and the causes are misunderstood, it hurts their ability to seek help.”

Identifying stickers, similar to the Queen’s Positive Space Program, will be given out to participants to indicate to others their completion of the training. A suggestion of one of the training’s student consultants, the stickers can be put up in a workspace or on a moving item like a water bottle or laptop.

The mental health workshop can be requested for departments, schools and student groups, and are open to anyone in the Queen’s community. “Looking out for one another is a good thing — it never hurts and it often helps,” says Dr. Condra. “Having someone supportive in the life of someone with a mental health issue can make all the difference.”

A schedule of the workshops and more information can be found at the Student Wellness Services website.