Each year millions of people are affected by mental illness. An often isolating illness for sufferers and their caregivers, the St. George’s University chapter of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) and Iota Epsilon Alpha (IEA) Honor Medical Society planned a series of events for Mental Health Awareness Week in early October in an effort to bring attention to challenges faced by those struggling with mental illness.
“It’s critical that sufferers of mental illness realize they are not alone and that there is a support system in place to help them through difficult times,” said Joshua Carlson, President of IFMSA. “Our aim with this event is to serve as a bridge between the student body and the Psychological Services Centre (PSC) to raise the awareness of mental health issues on campus and reduce the stigma often associated with it.”
Launching their first-ever “Never Alone Campaign”, the groups hosted a week of events that included Project Grassroots, where each student planted a seed that they would take with them and be responsible for growing, as well as a mental health seminar, Scrub Away the Stigma, where students shared their own personal experiences—and where members of the entire University community were encouraged to wear scrubs to signify solidarity and their commitment to “scrubbing” out the stigma associated with mental illness. For many, the Puppy Therapy event was the highlight of the week, where School of Veterinary Medicine students demonstrated the stress relieving properties associated with caring for and playing with puppies.
“Each event has had a great turnout, but what’s most gratifying is not only are people attending to help themselves but to also help someone that they know who can benefit from this information,” said IEA member Phillip Lettieri. “We aren’t just looking out for other people; other people are looking out for each other. That’s one of the best outcomes we could have hoped for.”
Each event for Mental Health Awareness Week encompassed this year’s theme, #IAmStigmaFree, driving home the notion that each person should be viewed as a unique individual, not as a label to be worn of their particular diagnosis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the stigma associated with mental illness has a negative effect on those afflicted and can often delay treatment as well as healing. By raising awareness, the hope is that the stigma associated with mental illness can be erased and that sufferers feel confident in seeking treatment options.
By Ray-Donna Peters