By Laurie E., Project Lead, Surrey-North Delta Division of Family Practice
For years I was seeing posts about Balancing our Minds from Rogers Arena and I was always jealous I had never been. When the opportunity to apply to host a Balancing our Minds Summit in your own community presented itself, a group of community organizations in Surrey got together to submit a proposal. I was so stoked when we were given the opportunity to host a BOM summit of our own!
I was in charge of finding the speakers for the event, which was pretty easy because I have become friends with some of the most amazing mental health advocates in British Columbia. Everything came together so easily. We had eight youth speakers who had lived experience with mental health issues, musicians, a stand-up comic, poets, and a play. It quickly became very clear this was not your typical mental health event. We had some super experienced speakers who had done this dozens of times, as well as some brave new faces sharing their stories publically for the first time. At the end of each of the stories shared, the MC’s pointed out the early signs/symptoms, intervention, and recovery for each of the youth. This was a great way to point out to those in attendance that mental illness and mental health look different for everyone. It also promoted getting help early, offered many different ways to get help, and showed what recovery from mental illness looks like and how it is a complicated and varied path to recovery.
While this was going on I was finishing up my degree at Simon Fraser University and was writing a paper about how to best combat mental health stigma. The research I was reading ALL pointed to the benefits of what is called “contact-based stigma reduction”. What that means is people with lived experience of mental illness teaching others about mental health. Just the act of sharing their story and interacting with people was effective at reducing mental health stigma. I was thrilled these were my findings, as I had been sharing my story for just over three years and was happy to see that the research was backing up the work my mental health advocate friends and I were already doing.
Sharing stories to combat stigma was the key theme of the event. At the end of the day we gave participants a short lesson about how the participants can do their part in sharing their own stories and reducing stigma as well as introduced the idea of bringing Stigma Free Zones into their own high schools. We hoped that this wouldn’t be just a one off event; we wanted to have students bring what they learned back to their own schools and create a lasting change. The students did this in so many awesome ways! We have already had seven schools adopt the Stigma Free Zone, have had one mental health club started, have heard from multiple youth that they are now sharing their stories to others through public speaking and saw a lot of great activity with the #BOMSummit hashtag on Instagram and Twitter. And that’s only the stuff people have told us about! I’m thrilled that the event was such a hit with students, teachers and counsellors and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!