By: Jennifer Baguss

By all appearances, professional writing student Renée Guilman is your average girl. She calls herself a cheerful student who is grateful for all the opportunities she has been given in life.

She is also bi-polar.

As a part of the launch of Algonquin’s two new initiatives for mental health support, iCopeU and Starting the Conversation, Guilman is telling her story and helping break down mental health stigma.

“I’m going to be bi-polar my whole life,” she said. “So I should talk about it.”

The event, aimed to promote the new initiatives that the Students’ Association and Student Support Services are launching during Mental Health Awareness Week, spotlighted Steven Page, formerly of the Barenaked Ladies. He helped Algonquin students ‘start the conversation’ on mental health at the event on Oct 2.

The first initiative that was launched has taken a cue from Fanshawe College with an online support system, iCopeU.
Manager of counselling services, Jeff Agate spearheaded the initiative.

“We wanted to increase our support,” he said. “The website, unlike student support services at the school, will be available 24/7.”

Agate stresses that the website has been designed for students experiencing symptoms of mental health issues such as trouble sleeping, changes in eating habits and changes in social habits.

“We really want to normalize it,” Agate said. “Students see themselves or peers as deficient or weak if they can’t cope well. But we know here that it’s actually very common.”

The second initiative that Algonquin is launching is the first of its kind in Ontario.

Disabilities counsellor, Alison West-Armstrong will be introducing a new module called “Starting the Conversation”.
It will give teachers access to the resources they need to help students who they feel may be experiencing mental health issues.

“Not everyone is comfortable talking about mental illness,” said West-Armstrong,. “We’re just trying to make people more comfortable.”

SA President David Corson says that he hopes this event will bring awareness and break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

According to Corson, the college calls 911 for a mental health crisis at least once a week.
“It’s happening here,” he said. “We have to do something.”

Corson hopes that by having a celebrity like Steven Page at the college, it will help guide students to the resources the college has made available.

Page openly speaks about his struggles with self-medication and bi-polar disorder and Corson is confident that this event will be successful in creating awareness for mental illness.

“We want the glitz and the spotlight so that the information gets out and helps someone.”

Corson and Page both spoke at the event along with Algonquin President Kent MacDonald.

All three speeches maintained the theme of normalizing mental illness for students.

Corson even admitted to experiencing chronic depression and ‘orange days’ after the passing of his wife 18 months ago.

“They’re called ‘orange days’ because there’s just no rhyme or reason to why I get them, and nothing rhymes with orange,” Corson said.

Page kept the candid speeches going by referring to his 2007 drug possession charges. He called it a ‘painful’ time in his life.

Page also spoke about how mental health issues affect more than one person.

“Your friends and family are always kept guessing,” he said, urging students to seek help and use the resources that are being offered to them.

Later in the day students and outsiders were invited back into the commons theatre for a concert to further celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week.

Page returned to the stage and performed songs from his solo ventures as well as Barenaked Ladies classics.