Mental health is a topic that most university students avoid discussing. Yet it’s reported that many students experience feelings of helplessness and depression, and many think they’re alone in feeling this way. To raise awareness of mental health issues and to battle the stigma associated with mental health and its discussion, UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre ran its UTMental campaign last October.

Chad Jankowski, the HCC’s health education coordinator, said he hoped UTMental would provide a platform for students to talk openly and honestly about their experiences with mental health, mental illness, and stigma.

The health campaign ran throughout October. The students who participated in the project became finalists in the Council of Ontario Universities’ Mental Health 2.0 Competition. The COU wanted undergraduate and graduate students to “promote campus mental health” through social media. The competition was inspired by the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Mental Health Strategy.

The competitors didn’t need to have a full campaign planned to enter; they could submit an outline of their plan, which needed to include the type of content and how they planned to reach their audience.

A panel of experts on social media, mental health, and accessibility will determine the winners, who’ll receive cash prizes and a celebration later this month. In addition to the cash prizes awarded to first-place, second-place, and third-place winners, the council will present a people’s choice award, the winner of which will be determined by an online poll.

The finalists include UTM’s own Nolan Anderson, Jack Liao, Ro’a Saafan, Jena Fabroa, and Greg Henry. They took advantage of YouTube, creating weekly videos to start the conversation on mental health.

They also invited HCC’s personal counsellors, UTM professor Hywel Morgan, and UTM principal Deep Saini to create guest vlogs.

Jena Fabroa, a campaign representative and peer health educator, described the importance of having big role models participate in the campaign. She explained that having professors and even Saini taking the time to talk about mental health demonstrates the importance of taking a breather.

Fabroa notes that although professors, personal counsellors, and UTM’s principal have busy schedules, they still make time to do something that makes them happy. “Being strictly academic isn’t always [as] important as it looks, but taking care of our health [and] minds is,” said Fabroa.

Fabroa was surprised by the amount of attention the videos got. “I knew my mom, dad, and friends would watch them—not so much others,” she said. “The fact they school community is willing and open to watch a four-minute video from each member is eye-opening.” She believes that mental health awareness is an important cause that “needs to be talked about more”.

This campaign also drew attention from people at UTSG and UTSC, who cheered on their fellow students once they learned about their participation in the competition. The support from all three campuses along with that of family and friends motivated Fabroa and the others to keep going. Since joining this campaign, Fabroa has gotten involved in other mental health awareness groups on and off campus.

Both Fabroa and Anderson also attended Unleash the Noise, a student-organized and student-run mental health strategy summit held in downtown Toronto from February 28 to March 1.

Unleash the Noise brought together over 200 students from universities, colleges, and high schools across Canada to develop strategies for raising mental health awareness. This event, sponsored by Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign, shares Let’s Talk’s goal of decreasing the stigma of mental health issues. According to the Unleash the Noise’s website, the campaign will change the way people think about mental health by “focusing on our strengths as young people”.

When asked about the future of UTMental, Fabroa said that she hopes it runs again next year, with even more vloggers sharing their experiences. For now, students can take the first step towards positive change by working to become more aware and accepting, and, most importantly, by joining the conversation on mental health.