Let’s talk

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Heather Stuart and her group

Heather Stuart and her group gathered earlier this week

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada, a day dedicated to keeping mental health at the front of our collective consciousness. Certainly, it has been an important area of focus for me during my tenure as principal, particularly because we know that statistically, at least 30 per cent of post-secondary students in Canada report mental health problems. That’s why universities, including our own, are doing what they can to put better supports in place for our students.

One thing we don’t talk a lot about, however, is the question of substance use, even though the two issues can often be closely connected and may be elicited by the same factors. Mental health problems can lead to substance use problems, and vice-versa. No matter which comes first, it’s clear the issue is one that we should be paying attention to.

One of our own professors, Dr. Heather Stuart, is trying to do just that. In her role as the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair, she has been championing a new initiative that is focused on the mental health needs of a specific campus demographic: our first-year male students.

Working together with her colleagues, Dr. Shu-Ping Chen from Public Health Sciences and Dr. Terry Krupa from the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Dr. Stuart set out to create a new initiative on campus. Armed with a $1.7 million grant from Movember Canada, they developed Caring Campus, a student-led program addressing mental health as it relates to substance use. It kicked off last fall.

The 25 male students Dr. Stuart and her colleagues enlisted for the program recently gathered to talk about their experiences in the first term and their hopes for the program moving into the future. From all accounts, things are progressing very well so far: not only are the young men learning to work together as part of a team, they have reported that they already feel their efforts are making a difference.

In the fall term, they hosted an awareness-raising Battle of the Bands night, which was attended by students from across campus. They’ve also created a targeted Facebook page populated with information and reference tools. They have made videos promoting their group and ways they can support other male students. They have also created a chat room – a safe space for students to post questions and to chat about substances and substance use issues. These young men are not only developing important leadership lessons, they’re also learning how to talk about mental health and substance use issues (not to mention how to listen!).

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these young men and their initiative in wanting to go out into the community to make things better for their peers. I’m particularly pleased to hear that they unanimously agreed to continue in their roles for the foreseeable future. We’re lucky to have them.

Today and every day, let’s talk.

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