Mindfest takes conversation about mental health beyond ivory tower
Mental health isn't always an easy thing to talk about. When it does come up in conversation, it's often in connection with illness or anxiety.
Mindfest, a free mental health and wellness festival at the University of Toronto's Hart House on Oct. 4, wants to shift the tone of the discussion. “We want to use this occasion to use a celebratory angle, to really show how both mental health and wellbeing can be as important as our physical health,” says Dr. Kenneth Fung, an associate professor of psychiatry in U of T's Faculty of Medicine and organizer of the event.
“Young people are often facing a lot of stress at school, and by fostering a dialogue we decrease the stigma and people can get the help they need earlier," he adds.
The schedule is designed to offer something for everyone: students, staff, faculty and the general public. There are yoga, improv and tai chi workshops, talks on bullying and a panel on the representation of mental health in the media.
One event – back by popular demand this year – is a workshop for high school students about the transition to university. Dr. Lisa Andermann, an associate professor of psychiatry and Mindfest organizer, says starting university is often a sensitive time. “Many people are leaving home for the first time. They are having to learn to balance their time in very different ways in a new environment, coming from a place where they were very comfortable and at the top of their class with friends for many years.”
The workshop is being put on with university students who are part of wellness initiatives on campus. It's supported by the U of T Health and Wellness Centre.
Other highlights of Mindfest include:
- A keynote speech by long-distance runner and child sexual abuse survivor Jean-Paul Bédard on “cultivating resilience.”
- A presentation by Dr. Suzanne Stewart, a psychologist, associate professor and member of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation, about mental health, Canada and Indigenous reconciliation.
- Kierston Drier's talk about the Bathroom Stall Project and spreading messages of support on campus
Mindfest began in 2013 as an initiative of U of T's department of psychiatry. The fifth edition of the festival has the support of partners at Ryerson University, OCADU and York University.
Three tips for taking care of your mental health in university:
- Find a balance: “When we neglect a balance of sleep, diet, exercise, studying, hobbies, etc., stress can quickly accumulate and get out of hand,” Dr. Fung says. “Staying in touch with our values., i.e. what we really care about in the big picture, can be very helpful in guiding us and preventing demoralization and burnout.”
- Get some beauty sleep: “Getting some sleep is very protective for mental health and keeping your resilience factor up,” says Dr. Andermann. She recommends aiming for seven or eight hours per night.
- Seek help when needed: “Taking care of our own mental health is important,” Dr. Fung says, “and there is no shame in getting help or requesting accomodations.”