Dozens of students from Durham District School Board’s (DDSB) Health and Wellness Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program gathered at DDSB headquarters on Thursday to learn about the stigma associated with mental illness and to brainstorm ways we can challenge it. DMHS’ Coordinator of Communications and Training was on hand to offer an expert perspective.
Laurie Reid, Head of Business and Social Sciences at Pine Ridge Secondary School, explains “SHSM is a Ministry-of-Education initiative to develop student skills in specific sectors. Today’s group are focused on Health and Wellness and are completing their ICE training – that is, training in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Through ICE, students apply their creativity to come up with new and innovative ideas on how to tackle world problems.”
The topic of stigma and mental health was personally meaningful to many students. SHSM student Riley, for example, said “In the past and currently, I have struggled with mental health issues, and I don’t like to open up. I feel like I am going to be judged, and so I just don’t talk about it. If we can challenge stigma, it will be easier for people to talk.
“People often assume that there is something wrong with a person who experiences mental health issues,” Riley continues. “Talking can change that. We can let people know ‘There is nothing wrong with you, you are not defective in any way.’ We can also help people gain some relief from distressing thoughts. Thoughts seem the worst when they are bottled up inside; talking can uncork that, and make the thoughts more manageable and less significant than you think they are.”
SHSM student Ronnie adds, “We’ve come so far already as a society. 50, 100 years ago – if you had a mental illness, you were a ‘freak,’ you were ‘violent,’ you were ‘just lazy, faking it for attention.’ With today’s communication technology and with many community resources, it’s become better for society as a whole. Now you have organizations like Durham Mental Health Services – if you need to talk, you can reach out and someone will be there to listen.”
Ronnie adds “I hope today’s brainstorming session on how to challenge stigma will make it easier for people to reach out – doing that can change their world, even in small ways.”
Many thanks to DDSB’s Health and Wellness SHSM program for inviting DMHS to contribute to this vital discussion!