Awareness is still lacking
Article: Dana Morenstein – Contributor
Mental health awareness on campus is a critical topic
“Mental health awareness is lacking on campus and society in general. Mental illness is still stigmatized,” according to Jessica Bonish, a fourth year social work student. “People are hesitant to ask for help and professors aren’t necessarily aware of the signs of mental illness and aren’t able to approach a student and let them know where they can get help.”
Jessica herself has struggled with an eating disorder, as well as depression. In high school, she began cutting out certain foods from her diet in an attempt to cure her chronic headaches. After eliminating corn, gluten and dairy, Jessica’s desire for health and wellness eventually developed into anorexia with elements of orthorexia.
A fairly recent term, “orthorexia,” is used by some in the medical community to describe an eating disorder in which people are obsessed and preoccupied with avoiding foods that are “unhealthful.”
Eventually, Jessica decided to get help at Bridgepoint, an eating disorder centre in Milden, Saskatchewan. There, she was told she needed to go to the hospital, where she stayed for five weeks. Jessica credits the communal nature of the mental health unit in the Regina General Hospital as teaching her “how to eat again”.
She also started to focus on the underlying issues that triggered her anorexia and then began working through them. Jessica has been in recovery from her eating disorder for over a year, and credits her support network—friends, family and counsellors—as encouragement.
“Have somebody to check in on you, and if you set a goal, tell somebody so they can check back on you. If your goal is to go out with a friend once this week, have somebody who will check back to see if you did it. If you didn’t, what prevented you from getting there? How can that person support you to do it the next time?”
Jessica seems confident that with the proper support, people who are suffering from mental illness can get better.
“Someone can be struggling with mental illness, but outwardly, look like they’re doing fine. There are university students struggling with mental illness, particularly depression.”
Jessica appears to be a poised, intelligent, confident young woman.
According to her, “when my depression was at it’s worse, I was still getting high grades in class and participating. I was very active in class. I think it’s important that professors know some of the signs and that students know it’s okay to ask for help.”
Often times, people suffering from a mental illness “wear a mask,” and are not necessarily able or ready to ask for help. Now in recovery for over a year, Jessica focuses on mental health advocacy. Recently, she participated in a focus group, in which she interviewed high school students. Jessica and the group found out what types of campaigns they wanted to see in regards to mental health awareness.
In order to encourage university professors to feel confident and comfortable in approaching students who are suffering from mental illness, Jessica has helped organize an upcoming workshop on Oct. 2 for faculty and staff. A representative from the Schizophrenia Society will do an overview of mental health, and let faculty know what signs to look for in someone who may need help. Jessica and another student will discuss their experience with mental illness, with the hopes of encouraging staff to assist university students who are suffering and to put a face to an illness that is often ignored.