This reading week instead of reading or sitting at home, I decided to take part in a program at New College called ‘the Student Voice Project’, a mental health awareness initiative. It ran for three days, there was breakfast and lunch included, and we got a CCR credit for participating in the program. Not too shabby, I thought to myself. If you’re a student trying to get into grad school, you’ll realize the important of having a varied CCR to show your school involvement. Anyways, I realized that it would be a pain in the butt getting to school for 9am when I commute from two hours away, but I thought whatever, I do it all semester, what’ll three days hurt?
When I look back, I was very selfish and unassuming when I first decided to get into the program. All I wanted was the CCR credit; I didn’t realize that I would be getting much, much more out the experience. I arrived on the first day at the Wilson Lounge in New College, and was immediately welcomed by friendly students and facilitators. We started with breakfast and doing a few icebreakers. I was so astounded by the friendly faces and amazing people that were there. Everyone was so kind and caring right off the bat, and it was probably one of the most welcoming and warming atmospheres I’ve ever been in. Next, we were hit hard with a very serious talk about wellness and self care by a speaker named Melissa Corcoran. She talked about cognitive distortions, attitude and language and various wellness tools while also relating everything back to her very personal story that she was so willing to share with us. She spoke about the struggle, the rock bottom and the breakthroughs she had, and it was such an amazing story. Melissa just completely turned her life around and I’d honestly never met someone who had been through so much hardship but really lived to spread the good message about becoming healthy. She showed off mediation techniques and how to get yourself calm and centered, and I really valued that. I mean, at this university it’s hard enough to just get a moment for yourself, and this was a great tool that only took a few minutes.
The next workshop we did was about barriers as to why people don’t seek mental health treatment. It was really something that I had never thought about before, because thank God, I’ve never needed mental health treatment. Hearing the ideas and knowledge that everyone had was so such an enlightening experience. Everyone was sharing ideas and there was no judgment or prejudice. I loved hearing what everyone had to say, especially during the end of the day reflections. The whole process was almost like a group therapy session. We were allowed to learn and experience on our own, but we came together to share our feelings and reflect in a group, and it was something that I had never experienced before.
The second day was based on starting a zine. Going into the process, I had no idea what a zine was but I just sort of new that I wanted to make one. Zines are small, self-published magazine-type works that are used to spread a message. They are usually anonymous, giving the author total control over whatever they want to say. We planned our zines and started creating, and finished up our zines on the third and final day. I have to say that creating the zine was my favourite part of the process. Instead of using computers, we were using crayons and paper, and it was so great to be able to be creative. Being a writer, I usually don’t get be very visual or add illustrations to my writing, so it was almost like I was back in grade school. It was a very freeing experience and I really enjoyed being able to just talk about whatever I wanted to talk about.
Our zines are going to be displayed in the New College library for everyone to see, which is a very exciting thing (I’ve always wanted to be published!). The final day was really hard. I didn’t want to leave, but our group discussion and reflection did give me some closure. I met some of the greatest people at SVP, and it was an experience that I’ll never forget and definitely return to in my coming years. It was really nothing like I’d experienced before. The warmth, the friendship, the camaraderie and freedom of speech without judgment created the most amazing atmosphere we utilized to talk about very important mental health awareness issues. I thought that this experience would be great because I want to go into psychology, but if not that, I got to self reflect and really think deeply about important and controversial topics. That’s something we rarely ever get to do in our everyday lives.
This was really one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had since I’ve been at U of T and I highly recommend to everyone. In early January, you’ll see the application in the emails from Blueprint services. No fear, no judgment and lots of learning – that’s my kind of project.