“Minding” the Gap: A Mental Health Awareness Project

-Alyssa Mae Domingo

When I applied to Peter Lougheed Leadership College, I knew I wanted to give back to the country where I grew up in, the Philippines. The 200-hour “stretch experience” is a great opportunity to make it happen. I started from scratch with only the “motivation” and the “purpose” in mind to do something that can potentially make a difference. With our #UAlbertaCares vodcast on mental health and the recently passed Mental Health Law in the Philippines on June 2018, I thought doing a project related to mental health and wellness can bring a positive change to the community. The sole purpose is to break the stigma to normalize conversations around the topic of mental health. A few days before I left for the Philippines, I was still a bit hesitant and scared to do the project after a year of preparation during the project development because it was my first time to be away from my family and the thought of coming in there by myself to conduct this huge project is terrifying.

As soon as I arrive in the Philippines, I met up with the Rotary Club of Northern Tarlac members to discuss our game plan. In my first week, I started to go into different schools in Paniqui, Tarlac, Philippines to give out permission letters to the head of the schools to conduct the mental health seminars. When I came into the first school and gave the first permission letter, I saw confusion and doubt painted on the principal’s face. She was skeptical if she would let me do my mental health seminar with her grade 7-12 students. I was asked a lot of questions – “What my purpose of doing the seminar?” “What topics am I going to discuss?” “Why did I pick their school?” and my credibility. When I talked to the other teachers in their faculty room, I learned that it was their first time to hear about the recently passed Mental Health Law. I became more motivated because I knew from that moment how important and timely it is for the students to learn more and start the conversation on mental health.

Living in Canada made me realize how privileged we are to have access to the resources and the information to take care of our well-being, both physically and mentally. As an immigrant, I went through a lot of transitions and adjustments from moving to one country to another, making new friends, and getting used to the new culture I am in. It was not easy because, for me, it meant leaving the place I call “home” where I feel the safest and most familiar with and starting back from zero again. Around the same time, I am also at the beginning of my university career. Another adjustment. My mental health was struggling. It started to affect my academics as well as other aspects of my life. I had no idea what was going on. It felt like I was not the same person as I was before because I was not doing as well as I did before. But unfortunately, I did not have any clue what mental health is or the coping strategies I can do to care for it. Winter term of my 3rd year of university, I started to attend workshops from the Counselling and Clinical Services and I became more familiar with the topic of mental health. Little by little, I learned to develop healthy coping strategies to deal with the stresses of life. I wish I knew these things before. Since then, my understanding of mental health changed and I never looked at it the same way again.

I think the highlight of my 52-day project is when I went to this public high school in a secluded area. It’s an hour travel in a jeep and a tricycle to get there. Weather news forecasted there was a typhoon that day. It was raining extremely hard. We had to conduct the mental health seminar in their open gym. While I was talking, the wind was blowing hard that the projector screen fell and the rain would not stop. The students can barely hear me but I tried my best to keep my voice loud and my composure maintained. Halfway through my seminar, the heavy rain caused a flash flood in the area. The students’ feet were submerged in the water while they were listening to my talk. Despite the crazy and unpleasant weather, there was nothing more worthwhile than the students’ enthusiasm and energy to interact and learn more about the topic of mental health.

It was an exhilarating and fulfilling experience – and probably the bravest thing I did in my life, so far. Overall, I talked to over 2,200 students ranging from 13-20 years old. The main goal of the Mental Health Awareness seminar is to teach young adults to take personal responsibility for their mental health. As everyone is at risk of having mental health issues, we all need to take part in the conversation and act together to take preventative measures against developing mental health issues. Ultimately, you need to take ownership of your own life. This involves making your own decisions and acting on it to take care of your well-being. 99% of the time, our health is in our own hands. Topics such as self-care, giving support, and social media and mental health were also covered. Being equipped with the right knowledge, tools, and resources enable us to bust myths and increase acceptance surrounding the issue of mental health. With educating the younger generation about mental health, we can rest assured that we will have a healthier future, physical, emotionally, and mentally.

“…we all need to take part in the conversation and act together to take preventative measures against developing mental health issues.. With educating the younger generation about mental health, we can rest assured that we will have a healthier future, physical, emotionally, and mentally. “

Change won’t come easy. Mental health is a very complex and broad topic. But I hope that being more informed and starting to change the conversation surrounding mental health can widen our capacity to love ourselves more – as well as to empathize and be more compassionate to the people around us. I hope that we use the voice that we possess to change how our society views mental health – break down the silence and shame around the topic. Speak out. Be heard. Listen well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s