Mental Health Week at UCM
“Stress seems to be a big thing at UCM that people talk about. It occurred to me after a while that maybe it’s not just me who has a hard time getting things done and we should do something about this,” says Amelie Gaetjen, a second year sociology student at UCM. She’s on the academic council and is one of the students behind the idea to organize a mental health week at UCM, although she won’t take credit for the idea completely; “it’s been tossed around for a while now”.
Last week it finally happened: from January 23rd to 27th, UCM hosted events everyday about mental health including a destigmatization workshop on Monday, a talk on the neuroscience of healthy eating on Tuesday, a question and answer session with counsellors on Thursday, and, to cap it off, a healthy run with the dean of UCM, Mathieu Segers, on Friday.
“We didn’t just wanted to talk about mental health.” Gaetjen continues to say. “But also appreciate how those of us who are ‘healthy’ (her hands form air quotes, Ed.) can take care of themselves when life gets tough. “We call this resilience,” says Tessa Vanheeswijck, the student counsellor at UCM at a Q&A session on Thursday evening, one of the events planned for the week. “When you build up your resilience, you are better able to deal with stressful things when they arise.”
Still, it’s important to remember that while many of us can build up our resilience by gaining a healthy balance in our everyday lives, for example by taking study breaks to do some exercise, eating regularly and even taking time to talk to friends, a significant amount of people are dealing with actual mental illnesses that make it difficult for them to function. “Some scientific branches still call it abnormal psychology, but that’s totally wrong. A lot of people, about one in four actually, are affected by mental illness today so it’s really not right to call this abnormal anymore,” says Celia Kaiser, who ran a workshop on destigmatization of mental illness on Monday night. “Everyone has some symptoms that show up in mental illness anyway, but we have to understand that some people have what we call ‘clinically significant symptoms’. These symptoms are more severe than just everyday ups and downs and these people need help without being looked at weirdly.”
Was the week a success? Gaetjen says that even if not that many people showed up to events, this week was important to stimulate discussion which is the beginning of awareness raising. “If just four or five more people come out of this thinking differently about mental illness or even feeling like they are not alone with their problems and want to get help, then we’ve achieved our goal.”