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SHERIDANtalk Event Brings Mental Health into Focus

April 10, 2014

Sheridan held its first-ever SHERIDANtalk: Breaking Barriers on Mental Health event on April 9th at its Oakville Campus.  Organized by the Health and Wellness Peer Mentor Team, and supported by the Sheridan Student Union, the event drew a large crowd of students, as well as employees, to hear from mental health advocates and Sheridan students on their experiences in dealing with mental illness.  The keynote speakers included:

Eric Windeler founded The Jack Project, a charitable organization, as the legacy of his son Jack, who died by suicide in 2010 during his first year of university.  As Eric describes it, “Something went wrong.  We didn’t know because he couldn’t talk about it.”  The Jack Project aims to create conversations about mental health, and encourage young people to take care of themselves and their peers.  Among its initiatives was the first national, student-led mental health innovation summit – Unleash the Noise. Also, Erin Hodgson, who got involved with The Jack Project a few years ago, came to speak about her history with mental illness and how these experiences have helped her to shape her advocacy to reduce stigma around mental health.

Arthur Gallant was chosen to be one of the 2013 “Faces of Mental Illness” for the Bell Let’s Talk initiative.  Now a mental health advocate, he was diagnosed at 13 years with anxiety and depression which he had already been coping with since early childhood.  He noted that SHERIDANtalk was the first event of its kind in the Ontario college system.  As an advocate, he stresses the importance of educating people about mental health:  “It’s about changing the words you use and how you use them.”

Mark Henick is a mental health clinician who attempted suicide on numerous occasions in his teens.  He described this chapter of his life in powerful detail at TEDxToronto in 2013, the highest viewed TED Talk from that event.  Mark spoke about some of his experiences, and discussed the broad societal impact of mental illness.  He described its impact as “greater than all cancers combined – but which of them receives more funding?”  He ended his presentation on an optimistic note:  “I stand here before you as a living, breathing man, with a mental illness – but I’ll be okay, and you will too.”

Three Sheridan students also bravely took to the stage to share their experiences in dealing with mental illness; both their own and that of family members. Their stories were moving and inspiring, and helped to shape awareness of the impact that mental health can have as a student. Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn was also in attendance to express his support for the initiative, noting that “Our generation chose not to talk about mental health, but tonight’s event shows how far we’ve come.”

The event concluded with a Q&A session and breakout groups, in which participants brainstormed about health and wellness topics at Sheridan, focusing on areas for improvement, raising awareness, and anti-stigma initiatives.

Cheryl Bradshaw (formerly Cheryl Cnoop-Koopmans), a Sheridan Counsellor who provided leadership to the organizing team of Peer Mentors, summed up the evening: “This event was truly a collaborative effort that I am so pleased to have been able to be a part of. The speakers, student speakers, peer mentors, and Student Union were all amazing in bringing this day together. The leadership from the Health and Wellness Peer Mentors was extraordinary, and everyone worked extremely hard to bring SHERIDANtalk together. It is truly inspiring to see the strides that are being made in this area for our students and for our community, and I couldn’t be more proud of the initiative taken and the support provided by Sheridan College to host an event like this one.”

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