Grade seven student participating in breakout session and discussion during the Stomping Out Stigma Summit.
On February 6, 150 grade seven students from 33 elementary schools across Durham Region entered the lecture theatre at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) for the Stomping out Stigma Summit with the Durham TAMI (Talking About Mental Illness) Coalition. As they were seated, songs such as Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” and Beyonce’s “Halo” accompanied a slideshow consisting of powerful quotes and photos of leaders in sports, entertainment and education who have some form of mental illness.
This introduction set the tone for a day that informed, inspired and educated students about the importance of talking about mental health and seeking help when needed. As TAMI speakers shared personal stories about their experiences with mental illness, students’ eyes and minds opened with amazement over the painful events these young people have endured; some shedding a tear or two.
“The purpose of hosting and facilitating these summits is to open the minds of students, teach them about mental illness, and dispel myths and stereotypes that often surround people who live with mental illness,” says Bob Heeney, Chair, Durham TAMI Coalition and Child and Youth Worker at Ontario Shores.
“We also want students to leave the summits thinking about what they can do in their schools to raise awareness about mental illness and encourage their peers to seek help when they need it,” he says.
TAMI speaker, Amanda, spoke to the young audience openly about her past. She had an abusive father and an alcohol addiction that led her to become a college drop-out. She has struggled with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another speaker, Bonnie, had a consistent childhood with two loving parents. She later struggled with panic disorder. “Denial is something that keeps us safe but keeps us from moving forward and healing," says Bonnie, who enjoys speaking with young people about her illness, encouraging students to talk about mental health issues. “I want everyone to know they are not alone.”
After hearing stories from Amanda and Bonnie and other speakers, and having an opportunity to ask questions, the students realized that anyone can be affected by mental illness – their family members, friends, neighbours, or themselves. When asked to describe the speakers, the students used words such as “courageous,” “strong” and “smart.”
This event was just one of ten Stomping out Stigma Summits the Durham TAMI Coalition has presented to students across Durham and York since 2004.
“Over 26,000 adults, teenagers and elementary school students have participated in a Durham TAMI project, including the summits, and that number is increasing every year,” said Heeney.
In September 2011, some members of the Durham TAMI group travelled to Yellowknife, NWT to deliver training on how to integrate this educational model into the schools and community. A pilot project will take place during the week of February 20 targeting 12 grade eight classes in five schools across Yellowknife.
“One in four Canadians are affected by mental illness and we are pleased to share this educational model to stomp out stigma beyond our borders,” says Heeney.
The Durham TAMI Coalition is available for speaking engagements and seminars for students and professionals during Child and Youth Care Week (April 29 to May 5, 2012) and Mental Health Awareness Week (May 7 to 13, 2012) and throughout the year.
About Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences:
Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) is a leader in mental health care, providing a spectrum of specialized assessment and treatment services for people living with complex mental illness. Patients benefit from a recovery-oriented environment of care, built on compassion, inspiration and hope. Ontario Shores engages in research, education and advocacy initiatives to advance the mental health care system.
About Durham TAMI (Talking About Mental Illness) Coalition:
The Durham TAMI Coalition provides contact based mental health education to students and professionals regionally, provincially and nationally through the award-winning Stomping Out Stigma Summits, bringing together community agencies, schools, youth and other community members to raise awareness programs about mental illness.
For more information, please contact:
Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences
Phone: 905-430-4055 ext. 6583