Taking steps to end stigma

Spotlight on Mental Health banner.

Towards the end of March, the peer health educators of Stand Up to Stigma held the Spotlight on Mental Health event in the Student Life Center. The event sought to bring mental health into the spotlight, encourage conversations about mental health, and promote mental wellness at Waterloo.

Carleen Clancy is a Kinesiology student in her 4B term and the team leader of Stand Up to Stigma. While she was previously a health services volunteer, she credits her experiences as a don with inspiring her to take on this cause.

“I realized I wanted more to do with the mental health community and to try to make an impact,” she says.

Stand Up to Stigma works to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and encourage students to seek support as needed. Their Spotlight on Mental Health event aims to ease the ability for students to start purposeful conversations about mental health. The student submitted artworks and community banner are key pieces of that conversation.

Carleen explains that students are invited to stamp the banner with colours representing how they are affected by mental health, “either themselves, a close friend, a family member, not at all, or some combination, to represent how almost everyone has some experience with mental health, and that we should all be more open to having these conversations.”

Starting conversations around mental health on campus can seem like a large undertaking, but Carleen emphasizes the importance and impact of first steps, even if they are small.

“I think events like this are important for students because it is not only a conversation starter between the volunteers and the students, but hopefully can carry forward from student to student. Once the first conversation around mental health happens, every single one afterwards gets easier, but starting that first conversation… it’s so hard. We hope to show people that there is a discussion to be had, even if it’s just asking your friend how they’re really doing that day.”

 She says that a lot of work was put into the event to share different resources and ways to get involved on campus. “Having events like this where there is collaboration with campus partners shows students all the different ways to channel their passions in a productive matter and really make a difference on campus.”

Talking about her personal experience at the Spotlight, Carleen shares the impact that students can have.

“Someone came by while we were in SLC. They spoke to me about their own experiences with MATES on campus, and how helpful they were when they were struggling with their mental health. As someone who also volunteers peer-to-peer and with campus wellness, it’s always awesome to hear.”

What stood out to her about these interactions and experiences was how ready students were to respond once someone reaches out. People are very willing to listen and participate in these conversations.

Carleen believes that every conversation regarding mental health is a good conversation, “when it comes from good intentions” and encourages students to take that first step, in spite of their fears.

“People might be scared to talk about it because they don’t know if the other person is ready, or they’re scared they’ll make things worse," she explains, "but I’d want them to know that talking about it is never bad. That person will know that their mental health is important to you, and they know that when they’re ready they can come to you."

Carleen suggested that for students who may be scared of saying the wrong thing, you can just listen. “Sometimes all someone needs is a person to talk to and some validation that they’re allowed to feel what they’re feeling. The fact that you’re listening can mean more than what you say back – it’s just all about the intention.”


Students interested in getting involved with Stand Up to Stigma can also follow them on Facebook or Instagram @standuptostigma.

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