What are the effects of living with a mental illness? How has it impacted your life today? Who or what made you realize that your life was going to get better? These were the types of questions addressed at Brock’s Active Minds fifth semi-annual Speak Out event on Monday, Oct. 27 in Pond Inlet.
Active Minds is an on-campus club that raises awareness about mental illness and suicide, working towards breaking down the stigma that surrounds this issue. They serve to support and unite students that have been affected by mental illness in some shape or form. With continuous growth and participation from their members and the community, the club demonstrates that bringing this issue to the forefront of the conversation is important.
Princess Marfil, fourth-year Psychology student and President of Active Minds, has been a member of the club for the past three years and said that many of her relationships and successes in life are owed to the club.
“Joining Active Minds is a great way to make friends because you get to meet people that come from different walks of life but that happen to have many things in common with you. The people that I’ve met in the last few years are still my friends today” said Marfil.
Having personally endured depression over the years, as well as her mother being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and her brother’s mild psychosis, Marfil was relieved to find out that Brock had a club that catered to supporting students who have been effected by mental illness.
“It’s really important to have a club on campus that raises awareness about this”, said Marfil. “Brock provides students with the resources to be able to find at least one person to confide in, if not more. We want them to know that it’s okay that you dropped that course. It’s okay that you’re falling behind. To hear these things coming from someone that cares about you is encouraging”.
Organizations across the Niagara region were present at Monday night’s event, including the Mental Health Association Niagara Branch, Canadian Mental Health Association, students from Niagara Public Health, as well as Debbie Macculloch, who is also from this institute and facilitated the question period later in the evening.
Marfil was one of three speakers who shared their stories about mental health, alongside BUSU’s Vice-President of Student Services Paul Dermody, third-year student Madeleine Baylor and community member Susan Mifsud. The diversity of their stories and the turmoil that they had to endure and overcome were enough to bring tears to the eyes of the audience. With supportive applause following each speaker, it was truly a heart-warming event that brought the community together to celebrate these individuals and the growing awareness of the importance of treating mental illnesses.
The question period was set up as a discussion panel similar to The View, with Macculloch “taking the place of Barbara Streisand”, as she phrased it. Each speaker was given the opportunity to share their thoughts with the audience; addressing five different questions that Macculloch provided them with.
How did you first realize that something was wrong?
Baylor: “The symptoms were very quickly on-set; there were obvious signs and delusions that I was sick. I suffered from insomnia and I particularly remember staying up late very often, which affected my health. The extra stresses that a child shouldn’t feel also set me off and made me realize that something wasn’t normal”.
What first steps did you take to get help? What worked and what didn’t work?
Marfil: “I told a select few of my friends and family. What helped was being honest with them about my problems but what didn’t help was lying to professionals just because I didn’t want to open up. I was scared that they were going to turn around and talk to their colleagues about me. But when I realized that this wasn’t the case, I started being honest about my feelings and that really helped”.
If you are comfortable, could you share your fears and possible thoughts of suicide?
Mifsud: “I was very point blank with my son Christian Johnson when I asked him, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ because the wrong thing is to say nothing. I would tell him that if he ended his life, he would be ending mine. I hoped that he loved me enough not to do it. I made him promise to call me before he thought of doing anything and since he is loyal to his promises, it brought comfort to me, as a parent”.
How should families approach their loved ones that are living with a mental illness?
Mifsud: “I think there were some things that I could’ve done differently, particularly because as a someone who personally suffers from a mental illness and trying to take care of your child that is going through the same thing, I tried to problem solve for them. You have to remember that there is only so much that you can take to. I ended up in a bad place, which resulted in alcoholism, and that made me realize that I will only be able to take care of my son if I can take care of myself first.”
What tip would you like to share about combating negative thoughts and feelings?
Dermody: “Just be yourself. When you’re trying to be someone that you’re not, it’s difficult to open up and deal with your feelings. When you focus on doing things for you instead of living your life for someone else, you become a better person, you mood improves, your friends and family can see that you’re doing well and you become healthier overall because of this choice.”
The end of the night was dedicated to providing the audience with the opportunity to ask their own questions, as well as to reflect on the stories that they had heard throughout the evening. Fourth-year English and Psychology student Olivia Wilson was among the crowd that was emotionally moved by everything that had happened at Speak Out.
“I am inspired by the courage that showed itself in these four wonderful people. It was truly a blessing to witness their testimonies tonight. There is a light in this life and the darkness cannot comprehend it”, said Wilson.
Active Minds will be hosting another Speak Out event in February for students who would like to meet and interact with more individuals on mental illness. They are always looking to connect with students on campus through volunteering with the club or attending events.
To stay up-to-date with their latest news, meeting times and events, visit their Facebook page Active Minds at Brock University or follow them on Twitter @AMindsBrockU