From left to right: Stefan Keyes, Dr. Gail Beck, Mike Souilliere and Dr. Zach Kaminsky join the mental health conversation in the Algonquin Commons Theatre on Jan. 25 Photo credit: Alex Lambert

Communicating with others about our mental health struggles can be essential for our long-term wellness.

This is just one of the messages participants learned when mental health experts from The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre and Do It For Daron came together on Jan. 25, in the Student Commons to present Let’s Keep Talking About Your Mental Health.

“Seventy-five per cent of people who are suicidal indicate so prior to killing themselves,” said Dr. Zachary Kaminsky from The Royal, during a panel discussion. “Talking about it can open up the conversations that lead to healing, reduce anxiety and get people on the path to help.”

As part of Bell Let’s Talk day, students had the opportunity to watch a panel hosted by CTV Morning Live’s Stefan Keyes, which featured local mental health experts Kaminsky, Mike Souilliere and Dr. Gail Beck.

The in-person and virtual panel discussion was part of the program set up by the Students’ Association for Mental Health Awareness Week at Algonquin College, which took place from Jan. 23 to 27.

Social interaction flooded the Student Commons with life as students engaged with volunteers and exchanged mental health stories before the event. Outside the Commons Theatre, tables were set up for student volunteers from The Royal and Algonquin College to distribute items like hats, brochures, wristbands and fridge magnets.

(Left to right) Nicola Ostrom, Alynn Casgrain, Shaundra Mitchener and Regina Silva at the Do It For Daron table outside Commons Theatre on Jan. 25
From left to right: Nicola Ostrom, Alynn Casgrain, Shaundra Mitchener and Regina Silva at the Do It For Daron table outside Commons Theatre on Jan. 25 Photo credit: Alex Lambert

Next door to the Do It For Daron table and Bell Let’s Talk student health and wellness zone was The Beacon Peer Support Place. The peer team was hosting a colouring table alongside the AC Purple Couch.

Historically, only about eight to 10 per cent of students have one appointment with a counsellor over the course of a school year, according to Bruce Hickey, manager of communication for the college, on behalf of Student Support Services.

Students were encouraged to join the conversation by writing down what mental health means to them on fliers. The Students’ Association posted these fliers and students’ names around the Student Commons and the ACT.

Students' Association vice-president, Gwyn Jones (Left) and Students' Association director, Marwa Alibakhiet (Right) in front of student mental health posters on Jan. 25
Students' Association vice-president Gwyn Jones (Left) and Students' Association director Marwa Alibakhiet (Right) outside the Commons Theatre on Jan. 25 Photo credit: Alex Lambert

During an interview before the panels, Dr. Gail Beck, the interim psychiatrist-in-chief and chief of staff at The Royal shared some practical tips to help someone identify when a family member or friend may be having a mental health crisis.

“Family members will notice when a person isn’t sleeping well or is irritable and seems to be worried more,” Beck said. “We know that about 25 per cent of the population of people between the ages of 14 to 25 have some form of anxiety or depression disorder that would merit treatment.”

After answering audience-submitted questions and offering mental health resources, the presentation ended with a closing address from the Students’ Association’s director Marwa Alibakhiet.

“We’ll continue the conversation after this event with resources on campus, online and from our community partners. Thank you for joining us for such an important discussion,” she said.

Algonquin College offers extensive services for coping with mental health, including counselling, online group therapy, AC Purple couch, Umbrella Project (for substance use support) and The Beacon Health & Wellness Peer Support Drop-In.