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SU brings national mental health campaign to U of C

By Derek Baker, January 29 2018 —

(With files from Jason Herring)

University of Calgary students will have the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations’ #StudentsLetsAct campaign from Jan. 30 – Feb. 1. According to CASA, the campaign’s goal is to “turn the many conversations we’ve had about mental health into real action and change on Canadian post-secondary campuses.”

As part of the #StudentsLetsAct campaign, students can write about why mental health matters to them on cutouts of paper hearts. Students’ Union vice-president external Anayat Sidhu said the hearts will then be sent to the federal government.

“We’re going to essentially try to bring students to our booth to talk to them about their student experiences around mental health, talk about what mental health means to them, why mental health matters to them,” Sidhu said. “Then, we’re going to collect all of these hearts and send them to the federal government to encourage them to prioritize mental health.”

CASA is a federal lobby group of Canadian post-secondary students’ associations that the SU is a part of. Sidhu says that each institution was given about 500 hearts to distribute to students, with a goal of sending 5,000 hearts from CASA institutions to the federal government.

“It’s going to be this huge, federal initiative mobilizing students in the conversation around mental health and really pushing them to the government to be like, ‘We actually take this seriously,’ ” Sidhu said.

As part of CASA’s 2018 advocacy week in Ottawa, Sidhu met with representatives from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) for consultations about a new standardized framework for postsecondary students across the country. The MHCC is in the process of creating a national standard to promote the mental wellbeing of postsecondary students. The standard will consist of voluntary guidelines for Canadian academic institutions to follow.

In addition, the MHCC provided funding for the #StudentsLetsAct campaign.

Sidhu says that there are lots of ways students can be involved in the initiative.

“[Students] can also be part of the campaign online. CASA has a link that you can visit and then from there you can fill out your information,” she said.

As part of CASA’s #StudentsLetsAct campaign, students may sign onto a letter urging the federal government to take action to address mental health concerns, such as by “expand[ing] the Canada Student Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities to also support those with temporary conditions” and providing more funding for campus mental health initiatives. The letter will be sent to their member of Parliament and Canada’s health minister.

“What we’re trying to do specifically with this campaign is extend the current disability definition under the Canada Student Loans Program because if the student has something that’s really episodic, they can’t claim it as a permanent disability. They can’t get funding for it,” Sidhu said. “If they extend the definition to encompass mental illness and mental health, overall more students will be able to get that support.”

The MHCC is a federally funded organization tasked with developing a national mental health strategy. They have previously released mental health strategies and standards that address the workplace, caregiving and Indigenous peoples.

The booth for the U of C SU’s #StudentsLetsAct initiative will be set up from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m in the south courtyard of MacHall on Jan. 30 and in the Tom Feasby Lounge at Foothills campus on Jan. 31. Classroom talks are planned for the Spyhill Campus.

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