Vai Patri – Stigma-Free Champion Feature

Back in December 2020, Andrea Paquette, President and Co-Founder of the Stigma-Free Society, held a live event interview with Vai Patri, singer, songwriter, and advocate for HSV and Borderline Personality Disorder. Today, Vai shares with us some more about her experiences and core messages as an artist and advocate.

Who are you? Tell us a bit about your experience with stigma and mental health.

I’m Vai Patri. I’m a singer, producer, songwriter, actress, and upcoming podcast host. Two and a half years ago, I was in a toxic relationship when I contracted HSV. I immediately thought the worst. I was reeling from playing all the uneducated jokes on TV and stupid remarks made by college frat boys about herpes over and over in my head. I couldn’t stop telling myself I was no longer beautiful, no longer worthy, and that I was damaged goods. At the time, I was recovering from an eating disorder and other mental health issues. The emotions I felt when diagnosed brought all my insecurities to the forefront; it felt like I’d taken two steps forward and ten back.  

I find that I share that emotion in common with many of the people I speak to. I had convinced myself to stay with my ex, who truly wasn’t right for me. I had also convinced myself that no one would ever want me, see me for me, or love me because of HSV. As a result of being bullied by people I thought were my friends, feeling trapped, and all the rest, I attempted to take my life. I was put in the psych ward. Then I got out. And then I changed my entire perspective, and in doing so, my life. 

I’ve come quite far from those premonitions. I’m confident, ferocious, and adamant that this DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. Here’s some of what I’ve learned. 

  • The perpetuating incorrect and uneducated stigma that exists around HSV is far more difficult to deal with than the actual condition. 
  • Despite what you’ve heard, yes I’ll say it again, THIS DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE.
  • HSV will not stop you from having a sex life, having kids, finding love, falling in love, or being short of anything that you are. 
  • Disclosure gets easier. 
  • Believe me when I tell you this experience can make you stronger. I’m proof. 

Why are you a Stigma-Free champion?

I will answer this honestly: the stigma that surrounds HSV affected my mental health to the point where I tried to take my life. I’m not alone. I will fight tooth and nail to eradicate  the incorrect stigma that exists around STD’s and many other conditions in my upcoming podcast, “Not One Thing (defines you”). As I gain momentum, I will fight to change the education system, which fails to give people the tools and information they need to combat real life experiences.

My family has since stopped speaking to me as a result of my activism; I fight to change mindsets like theirs. The work that the Stigma-Free Society is doing is essential. 

How have you used your experiences to make a difference?

Personally, and I don’t know if you can relate – when I endure trauma, I want something GOOD to come out of it. I want to turn a horrible experience into something positive. When I was diagnosed, I began reaching out to other people with the condition on anonymous forms. I quickly realized that relatability and sharing experiences was an antidote ; when you feel so many crazy emotions colliding  in your head, knowing that you are rational for your emotions and not insane for feeling them is the anecdote.

I put out a Youtube video on HSV two years ago and I never expected for it to generate the reaction it did – it made me realize how important it is to speak out and how powerful storytelling  is. I’ve started a support group on IG, I try to talk to as many people as I can, and I’ll  continue to figure out ways to challenge the way sexual education is taught in school. 

My upcoming podcast “Not One Thing” (as in not one thing defines you – a motto that got me through my experience) will explore not only HSV, but other conditions such as BPD which I was later diagnosed with, C-PTSD, HIV, sex addiction and more. 

Why do you think it’s important to talk about mental health and stigma?

It can save a life. It saved my life. 

Period. 

In one sentence, what is your message to the Stigma-Free community? 

NEVER STOP FIGHTING. 

Thanks for taking the time to share with us, Vai!

 

Truth and Reconciliation Day Sept. 30th

Today marks the first annual National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada. Previously, this day was acknowledged as Orange Shirt Day, an informal event where residents of Canada were encouraged to wear orange t-shirts to show support and solidarity with residential school survivors. Now nationally recognized, Truth and Reconciliation day is marked by the long history of Indigenous-settler relations in Canada, beginning centuries ago when this land was first colonized, moving through to present-day where many Indigenous communities are still facing mistreatment and the legacy of residential schools remains. 

At the Stigma-Free Society, we firmly believe that Indigenous folks from across Turtle Island should be acknowledged and recognized as the caretakers of this land that they are today, and have always been. Stigma and racism faced by Indigenous communities remains pervasive in Canada, and the mental health challenges that can arise from these experiences must be acknowledged. We encourage everyone to join and promote our partnering organization We Matter in their vital work of sharing stories of hope and resilience among Indigenous youths and amplifying the voices of young Indigenous creatives. 

What is Truth and Reconciliation?  

In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was founded in response to the lawsuit against the Canadian government regarding the atrocities of residential schools. According to Facing History & Ourselves, “since the beginning of its work in 2010, the commission has been collecting information about what was done to survivors in the residential schools and has worked to make this information public. From this process, the survivors receive public, communal acknowledgement and support for years of injustice and suffering.” A vital part of the commission’s work is educating the public on residential schools, a part of Canadian history that has for far too long gone unacknowledged.  

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has published their Calls to Action, which you can find HERE. These 94 Calls to Action address various injustices that have been pervasive in Indigenous communities across Canada and are intended to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” 

What can educators do on Truth and Reconciliation Day?

Acknowledging the legacy of Residential Schools and educating young people on the continued mistreatment of Indigenous folks in Canada is a crucial step in working toward justice and change. Historically, these conversations have been left-out of commonplace curriculum in schools, an exemption that can perpetuate stigma. Weaving this history, Indigenous culture and teachings into lessons and classroom conversations is important throughout the entire school year. However, on this day in particular, it is vital to engage in  these conversations. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website provides educators with invaluable resources that can be implemented in their classrooms today and throughout the entire school year.

What can I do on Truth and Reconciliation Day?

Something that we can all do on Truth and Reconciliation day is read the 94 Calls to Action, put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Again, that resource can be found HERE. Reading and learning about these Calls to Action can inform Canadians about the issues facing Indigenous folks, and this awareness is the first step in being part of this fundamental change. 

Another small act you can do is to wear an orange shirt to show acknowledgement and support of residential school survivors. This website provides links to online shops where you can purchase orange T-shirts that have been designed by Indigenous creators and where the proceeds will go to supporting Indigenous causes. 

Throughout this week, from September 27th to October 1st 2021, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is hosting online events for schools. Educators are encouraged to participate in these virtual events with their students. They are also hosting livestream events for the general public throughout the week. The recordings will be housed on their website after the events for folks to watch if they cannot attend live. 

 By taking this time to listen and learn, we can work together toward awareness, change, and hope.

 

Peer Support Training for Rural Residents

In partnership with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, the Stigma-Free Society is proud to announce our upcoming Peer Support Worker Training sessions, tailored specifically for rural residents in Canada. This two-day virtual course will be held on November 1st and November 8th (8am – 4pm PDT, 10am – 6pm CDT, 11am – 7pm EDT, with breaks). This training will equip participants to facilitate peer support programs and become leaders in their communities. 

These sessions empower individuals with shared backgrounds to work together to develop wellness-related skills. Taking this training is a great opportunity to find and provide support for mental health, along with those who understand your way of life!

What is Peer Support?

  The Mental Health Commission of Canada describes peer support as “a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common.” The benefits of this approach to emotional and social support have been proven time and time again.

One of the most reputable Canadian providers of peer support training is Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, an organization that offers online training for both individuals and families. This training focuses on holistic approaches to wellbeing and practical strategies for promoting empathy and communicating effectively. Robyn Priest emphasizes that “peer support isn’t limited to mental health or addiction issues. It can be about anything anyone is going through; about life.” As human beings, we have a deep need for belonging. In addition to bridging gaps in professional mental health services, peer support can help us to build the connections we crave.

Peer Support in Rural Communities

Recent publications from the Mental Health Commission of Canada have emphasized that those living in rural and remote communities face specific challenges when it comes to maintaining wellness. These challenges include a relative lack of professional support services such as psychologists or counsellors. In these contexts, peer support is a great option. Because peer support is easily done over video chat, it can be a highly accessible resource.

No one understands the life and struggles of those living and working in agricultural communities better than those who have that shared experience. Training as a peer support worker will help you to translate that empathy into compassionate action. 

Key Benefits

Participants will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals, as well as how to apply them in the contexts of one-on-one support and group facilitation. They will also learn how to share personal experiences in ways that help those facing similar challenges, including tips about demonstrating self-reflection and vulnerability while still maintaining professionalism. 

The training includes discussion and reflection on the importance of self-care as a regular practice, along with strategies for incorporating it into your daily life. Supporting others can be an emotionally challenging task, making it all the more important to take an intentional and holistic approach to your own wellbeing. 

Overall, participants can expect to gain valuable knowledge and skills that will help them to do work that is nourishing, caring, and empathic—as a peer support worker or a support group facilitator, and indeed in all walks of life.

This rewarding work opens up many opportunities to cultivate strong and supportive communities. The possibilities are there for you to discover!

Training and Registration Details

Tailored specifically for rural residents in Canada, this two-day virtual course will take place on November 1st and November 8th (8am – 4pm PDT, 10am – 6pm CDT, 11am – 7pm EDT, with breaks). 

Thanks to a generous grant from Pacific Blue Cross BC, this training is free of cost, with a $50 deposit required to secure your spot. Your deposit will be refunded once you attend the session, unless you choose to donate the $50 to the Stigma-Free Society. Donations are always welcome! Deposits for those who do not participate cannot be refunded. 

For more information and to register, please go HERE or email [email protected].

Spots fill up quickly, so register today! Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to build skills for cultivating empathy and understanding in your local community. 

Reconnecting with Your Values: Reflections on ACT

Values give us motivation, purpose, and direction. They are a foundational element of our overall wellness, but it’s all too easy to overlook or forget about them. Speaking for myself, I can think of many occasions when I became so preoccupied with what was not working out as I had planned and so intent on figuring out how I was going to fix it that I had lost sight of why I wanted something in the first place. In my experience, a useful framework for reconnecting with your values is ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). As the name suggests, this approach focuses on taking actions that resonate with your values. The core concept is that, even when both our outer situations and our inner sensations are not what we’d like, we can still move forward in alignment with the ideals that matter most to us.

A Brief Introduction to ACT

I first became introduced to ACT a number of years ago when I sought some professional help to work through a  difficult season. During a counselling session one day, I complained that I was sick and tired of trying to get rid of negative emotions, that I thought positive thinking was a superficial response to painful situations, and that I didn’t even care if my life were “happy” anyways—what I really wanted was for it to be meaningful. I expected to be respectfully challenged for my rather adolescent expression of frustration, but instead my counsellor simply commented that I might be onto something and suggested that I do some reading on ACT. 

As I discovered, ACT is a mindfulness branch of behavioural-based therapy. While it shares some things in common with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), it differs from CBT’s emphasis on identifying and correcting thought errors. Instead, ACT begins with acknowledging that difficult events, thoughts, and emotions might always be present. From this place of acceptance, we can begin to recognize our thoughts and feelings for the fleeting things that they are. ACT promotes some tactics for loosening our grip on judgemental, hostile, or despairing thoughts (a process known as defusion), yet the main focus is on choosing to move forward in a valued direction. 

I found myself attracted to this strengths-based approach to building psychological flexibility. I was immediately intrigued by its emphasis on values as a means of developing resilience. And, as I’ve returned to this approach over time, I’ve realized that the concept of values gets at some important things that the concepts of solutions and even goals do not.

Goals vs. Values

Goals and values are related concepts, but there are important distinctions. We might say that whereas a goal is a finished product (e.g. completing a degree program), a value is an ongoing process (e.g. cultivating intellectual curiosity). Values aren’t exactly things that we achieve; they’re more like things that we orient ourselves toward.

On first glance, values might seem like a vague, even impractical, notion. After all, they aren’t nearly as concrete as goals. Much of our current language around goals focuses on making these goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). Such work can be very satisfying, and I do not mean to deny the importance of goal-setting. What I’m suggesting is simply that it’s equally important to keep an eye on our larger hopes and dreams—even and especially when our lives seem out of touch with these visions.

Values live at the deep places where our basic ideas about our identity and our relationships with others are formed. Rather like metaphors, they are dynamic, creative, and capable of awakening our inner potential. They’re something we can play with and aspire to.

When it comes to reassessing our personal qualities, interpersonal relationships, social life, or career, we can choose to focus on goals. We can ask ourselves “what do I want?” and strategize carefully about how we can reach these things. Or, we can choose to focus on values. We can ask ourselves “what do I care about?” and let ourselves be guided by our reflections on these ideals.

Goals have their time and place, and they are an important component of ACT. But if we’re faced with significant challenges that temporarily overwhelm our ability to cope, it can be quite powerful to take a step back and re-imagine our realities. Reconnecting with our values can help us turn breakdowns into breakthroughs.

Further Reading and Resources

  • A useful tool for identifying your values can be taking a Personal Values Assessment
  • The first book I read on ACT was The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris (2008). You can check out his blog here
  • The most recent book I read on ACT was A Liberated Mind by Steven Hayes (2019). You can check out his blog here

Author:

Denae Dyck, PhD, English 

Content Creator, SFS

 

Another Day by Sanjana Karthik

I believe that when you are young, you can be vulnerable to various changes and experiences that take place within your own body, your life, and the overall world you reside in. Being an adolescent gives way to challenges and the need to balance several aspects of one’s life. For instance, there is a need to accommodate changes with friends, dynamics with family members, managing the stresses of school, extracurriculars, universities, and overall just finding a sense of self at the same time. These things can be overwhelming, especially with changes happening in one’s own body, and navigating the world with the pressures and influences that come with it.  These stresses arising from these changes can impact one’s mental health.

Being a high school student is acquainted with its own sets of challenges. For example, peer pressure and influences can make it difficult for us high schoolers to discover a sense of self.

It is easy for us to lose track of who we are at times, while also maintaining the balance of growing and developing into new versions of ourselves.

Things like drugs and alcohol seem appealing, and poor influences can change our reference points and make us lose sight of the person we wish to become. It is easy for us to fall sway to the habits and lifestyle of other people, and compare ourselves to others, not realizing the individuality and authenticity we must reach instead.

High school also lends itself to people directing time and energy to new friendships, and possibly exploring romantic relationships. This can bring with it confusion, peer pressure, and heartbreak as well, which affects one’s mental state. Youth also have to cope with new dynamics with regards to their relationships with their parents, by finding a sense of autonomy, but still maintaining relationships and ties with family members as well. It can often be a balancing and struggling act with regards to respecting and upholding family values, but also finding a sense of self, and individuality as well.

Taking care of your mental health is essential, and unfortunately, it’s not a thought that crosses people’s minds at all times during this age. Energy is put into simply “surviving life” at times for high schoolers, and we are not able to live beyond that state of mind and genuinely enjoy it. I recommend people connect with tools and strategies for taking care of their health that align with their interests and personalities. 

I enjoy writing, which is why every day I try to accommodate goal gratitude and reflective journaling into my schedule. Taking time to work through my mental processes is important to me, and helps me evaluate and alter my life where crucial. Additionally, taking care of my physical health lends itself to a better mindset. Practicing positive affirmations, mindfulness, and breathing exercises, along with working out and doing yoga are some methods of this. Maintaining a healthy diet, and connections with people adds to a wholesome and self-fulfilling feeling as well.

COVID-19 has allowed the school system to transition into a quarter system. For some, including myself, it can be a blessing. The system has allowed me to channel more energy towards two courses at a time, allowing for improved grades, and more time for other things, including prioritization of my health and connections with others. However, for the upcoming year, the quarterly system will no longer be a hybrid system and will amount to its own sets of pros and cons as well. 

To support youth’s mental health the community needs to work towards addressing the issues of this vulnerable age group. Parents can lend themselves to meaningful conversations with their youth and talk about issues or problems in their life as well. Open conversations and communications about how youth feel about their relationships with friends, family, school, mental health, and other crucial aspects of their lives are crucial.  

Teaching youth strategies of generating their happiness and prioritizing their mental health on a day-to-day basis, regardless of where they may fall on their mental health spectrum are possibilities that are beneficial to explore.

Author,

Sanjana Karthik

High School Student

Resources for Students with a Learning Disability: Blog Repost From Best Value Schools

The transition from high school student to college student should be exciting. Going from life in a high school to living and learning on a college campus can mean more freedom, more responsibility, and more fun. That transition isn’t always easy for students with learning disabilities, though, as they may feel more anxious about this big change than other students do.

Undergraduate enrollment is projected to hit 17 million between 2018 and 2029, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD) reported that 19% of undergraduates are living with a learning disability.

In some cases, students with learning disabilities can find school challenging and unenjoyable as they struggle to successfully complete their coursework and earn their degree. The pandemic hasn’t helped alleviate any of those concerns, either. While online courses have been a common method of learning during the pandemic, the environment is shifting to in-person learning once again. The return to an in-person education environment can add to the stress students with learning disabilities face when enrolled in college courses.

Luckily, there shouldn’t be much cause to worry. There are a variety of available resources available for students with learning disabilities, all of which are designed to ensure students have a positive, rewarding college experience. You can find many of those resources in this guide, which will help prospective college students who suffer from a learning disability gain insight to the type of help available to them on their campuses, along with information on how to access these resources to make the college experience more enjoyable.

Students with Learning Disabilities

Many students with learning disabilities will show signs of their struggles as adolescents, which means intervention and resources happened early on during their education. However, this isn’t always the case. Some people don’t start to show signs of a learning disability that early on, and may notice issues like misspelling of words, misreading or misunderstanding information, or difficulty focusing on tasks as they attend their high school or college classes.

Regardless of when students start to show signs of a learning disability, it is still completely possible to complete a higher education. Between 8% to 10% of the population under the age of 18 in the United States have some type of disability — and this includes high school students. Many of these students will go on to become college freshmen who are working to obtain an associate’s, bachelor’s or higher degree.

As mentioned above, about 19% of undergraduates, including college freshmen, are living with learning disabilities while enrolled in college. And, it appears most are succeeding in their quest to conquer higher education. According to NCES, about 67.1%  of students with disabilities, including learning disabilities, have graduated from a postsecondary institution. Many of these students likely utilized the campus resources available to students with disabilities throughout their undergraduate studies.

8 Most Common Learning Disabilities

What exactly is a learning disability? A learning disability is a disorder that can negatively impact a person’s comprehension of oral and written language, reading, and mathematics. In many cases, students with learning disabilities will have difficulty listening, speaking, spelling, problem solving, or other education-related tasks. These disabilities are the result of genetic and/or neurological factors, which can, in some cases, affect multiple learning-related cognitive processes.

According to the Learning Disability Association of America (LDA), 2.3 million students have been diagnosed with specific learning disabilities. This does not include disabilities such as blindness, deafness or autism.

While many types of learning disabilities exist,  there are certain disabilities that are more common than others, and each learning disability affects students in a different way. The 8 most common learning disabilities include:

  • Dyslexia: This learning disability affects a person’s ability to read.
  • Dysgraphia: This learning disability affects a person’s ability to write legibly.
  • Dyscalculia: This learning disability affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and complete math calculations.
  • Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): This learning disorder affects a person’s ability to hear and process what they are hearing.
  • Language Processing Disorder: This learning disorder affects a person’s ability to express themselves and understand oral and written language.
  • Nonverbal learning disabilities: These types of learning disabilities affect a person’s ability to understand nonverbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions.
  • Visual-motor deficit: This type of learning disorder affects a person’s ability to understand visual information.
  • ADHD: This learning disorder, also known as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, affects a person’s ability to focus. Those affected by this type of learning disorder may also exhibit behavioral issues.

What your school should do for you 

If you have a learning disorder, you may be asking what your school should do for you during your transition from high school to college. And, you may also want to know how they should help to support and accommodate you during the duration of  your program, which is equally important.

The good news is that college campuses all over the world are accommodating to students with learning disabilities. When you enroll as a college student, you are not required to disclose to anyone that you have a learning disability. However, if your school is not aware of your learning disability, certain resources may not be an option. Should you voluntarily disclose that you have a learning disability, your school can help to assist you with utilizing the resources designed to help you complete your studies successfully.

Know your rights when it comes to schooling

There are also legal protections in place for students with disabilities. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is designed to protect the rights of those living with disabilities. Simply put, under this act, schools are required by law to make certain accommodations available to students with disabilities to assist them with the completion of their coursework. This includes making accommodations for college students.

Under this act, all programs and courses offered by college campuses have to be accessible to students with disabilities. To ensure this is the case, schools will modify policies, practices, and procedures to make sure students are accommodated appropriately depending on their individual needs.

The protection provided in college is similar to the protections you may have received in elementary and high school. That said, there are differences you should be aware of before you enter college. Rather than providing students with aids and services that meet their needs, post secondary institutions are required to provide academic adjustments that do not discriminate against a student’s disability.

In general, a few ways your school can work with you to accommodate your learning disability include:

  • Assistive software and technology: Certain learning disabilities require students to utilize assistive technology, which is considered a piece of equipment, software program, or system that improves a student’s learning. Recording devices, text-to-speech devices, recorded texts, and captions are examples of the assistive technology your campus may provide to you and other students with learning disabilities.
  • Support groups and centers: The disability services office and student-led support groups are there to help students with learning disabilities complete their coursework with ease. In addition to on-campus groups and centers, online communities and groups can also offer students the support they need while earning their degree.
  • Modified course schedules: Campuses offer students with disabilities the option to modify their schedules or how they interact with coursework. Students can utilize note takers, substitute certain courses required for program completion, and receive written outlines and lecture summaries for a course. Additionally, students with disabilities can enroll in programs early to ensure time is allotted for accommodations, bring service animals to in-person classes, and change the location of classes to a more accessible location.

Finding the best school for you

Finding the best school for you is important. Every student is unique, so your needs will differ from other students with disabilities, and it’s important to find the right fit for you. You’ll likely need a school with a variety of resources available to you, and you’ll need to do your research to know what options are available on each campus or in each program to help you succeed academically.

As you search for the best school for you, one thing that can help is to browse school websites. You can often find information regarding the services and resources available to students with disabilities on these sites, which can make it easier to narrow down the options. For example, a list of assistive software and technology and campus support groups and information regarding the school’s disability services office should be accessible to anyone who visits the school’s website, so make sure to take the available information into account.

It can also be helpful to speak to college students with disabilities who are enrolled in the programs you’re interested in to find out their experiences. You may gain some insight into how your experience would be on campus from hearing from other students with similar learning disorders. And, this kind of information can be useful even if the person isn’t enrolled in the program you’re looking at. After all, a conversation about college life as a student with a learning disability can help put you at ease and prepare you for your time at school — whichever you choose to attend.

As you search for the perfect college, you may also want to ask yourself the following questions to help you decide what school is the ideal fit for you:

  • What are the percentages and ranges of disabilities?
  • Are there support groups and student-led clubs for students with disabilities?
  • Who should you notify of your disability and who will already be notified via your application and enrollment information?
  • What kind of adaptive software will you have access to?
  • Will the disability resource center make the accommodation arrangements on your behalf?
  • Will the college make texts available in various formats, including electronic, audio, or large print?
  • Who can you speak to if a professor is unwilling to comply with your request?
  • How will any situations with professors who are unwilling to comply with your requests be handled?
  • How many staff members are available to assist students with learning disabilities?
  • What is the graduation rate for students with learning disabilities?
  • How many students access the services available to students with disabilities?

Conclusion

There are thousands of two- and four-year postsecondary institutions to choose from across the nation. Students with learning disabilities are not limited when it comes to what college they can attend. That said, as with any prospective college student, a student with learning disabilities should do their research when weighing the options to ensure they are making the right choice. If you’re looking at colleges but are worried about accommodations for a learning disorder, just know that it is possible to find the perfect school to support your educational needs and offer you the chance to have the college experience you deserve.

Author,

Kristina Byas

Contributing Writer at Best Value Schools 

Read original article HERE.

ReFresh, ReIgnite, and ReCharge: A Graduation Letter to Educators as We Cross the June Finish Line By Dr. Daniel To

Dear friends and colleagues,

It’s over…it’s finally over. You did it! The 2020 Spring to 2021 June School year has finally ended! Yes, the dates I’ve listed are the not dates of the traditional Canadian School year, but I think, without doubt we will all look at these past 14 months in a global pandemic as a singular occasion that deeply affected each of our lives personally and professionally.

You have spent the last 14 months facing the unknown that comes with each pandemic day: all the while trying to make every day a success for the students under your watch; and now you’re there. You have done it. You have “slipped and slid” across the finish line into a relatively “normal” summer. As you step out of the COVID-19 cave, however, into the light that will be the 2021 summer – what should you do? A little “revenge travelling” (I had not heard that term before COVID)? Making up for lost time with friends and family? Welcoming people into your home? Not watching the news every Monday at 3pm? What will your summer of 2021 be like?

My hope is that whatever you are doing this summer is able to fit into these three categories to better mentally prepare you for September.
ReFresh: Your summer should be a time of refreshment: You really don’t need to be doing MORE. This summer, please take some time to do LESS. You need to rest your body, your soul and your mind. You and your colleagues have just been through an unprecedented 14 months: a cataclysmic event that people seem to only write about in movies. I don’t think this summer is time for expending more energy doing things you don’t want to really do that will sap more of your inner strength. You really need to spend some time in renewal: shedding away the angst of COVID. Once that is accomplish ,and you have shed that old 14 month skin, you can then….

Lego can inspire creativity!

ReIgnite: Your passion for your profession, your students and their families.

I know this year has been tough and it must have been so hard to come into work with all of your stresses knowing that despite all of what you’re going through personally, you still need to take care of other people.

You needed to make sure your students were learning, that their families were cared for, and your colleagues at school felt supported. There was so much giving these 14 months and so few opportunities to have your bucket filled. This summer, it’s time to reignite your passion to change lives. Whether it’s through reading something inspirational, doing something creative – like building lego…or   some well-deserved professional development, or watching some life changing video: do something this summer to restart that fire burns for your profession. Once you have reignited that passion then….

Maddie builds her own Mars Rover

Recharge: When you have adequately and effectively spent time refreshing and reigniting yourself, then it’s time to recharge. What does that look like? It could be in the form of continued professionally development. You may be recharged in planning new and exciting lessons for your classes. Or, you may be recharged by having coffee with your colleagues. Maybe you want to start a creative hobby to drive your passion. It’s definitely important to recharge your professional self this summer as you head into the new challenge of September post pandemic. It’s only by recharging that you can stay fresh!

 

The post pandemic world of education will likely be happening this September. All the data points to a full reopening which includes school as it was (mostly) prior to the spring of 2020. It may feel like a relief that it has finally come – but I do know that many people are tired: and because they are so tired, they are stressed: and because they are so stressed, they are lost. It is so important that you take time out for yourself this summer to refresh, reignite and recharge yourself in preparation for September.

You have done something that no other group of educators have done as a collective – you have literally carried your students: their apprehensions, their desire to learn, their mis-trust of the world during a pandemic, and their hopes and dreams – you have carried these with the strength of Atlas.

You have held up their hands and enveloped their hearts and told your students and their families that you are here for them. You have won the day. Now, please take some time for yourself this summer because those very students who so relied on your to get through the past 14 months will need to call on you once again to usher them back into the new-old reality. Have a wonderful summer! You surely do deserve it!

More about this topic on my Stigma Free Society Broadcast from June 28, 2021 – found here: https://youtu.be/BuRn5jaSjyw

Author,

Daniel To

Stigma-Free Society Live Event Host & Supporter 

Read his blog HERE.

 
 
 

Men Experience Eating Disorders Too

Hi, my name is Sterling and I go by he/him pronouns.

I am an established mental health advocate and a proud Stigma-Free Society Presenter. I am writing this to share a glimpse of my lived experience of mental illness, recovery, and mental health advocacy.

I have always batted high levels of anxiety for as long as I can remember. I did well in elementary school, however, I always had my anxiety disorder looming over me. When I made the transition from elementary to high school, I found the increase in academic and social stress to be overwhelming. In an attempt to cope with the stressors,  I turned to something I thought I could control, my food and exercise habits. This desire to control my food and exercise habits quickly spiraled into an obsession and within months I was admitted to my local hospital in a life-threatening condition. 

This experience began a vicious cycle of hospital admissions and treatment programs for several years. One aspect of my battle with an eating disorder that I struggled to come to terms with was the stigma that surrounded my diagnoses.

I am a man and, as a result, I did not fit the stereotypical person diagnosed with anorexia.

 I felt so much shame about my mental illnesses that every time I returned to school from a hospital or a treatment program, I “lied” about why I had been in hospital for so long. When I left school early to go to an appointment with a therapist or doctor, I felt embarrassed.  Every time I cried or needed extra help or support, I thought I was weak and did not live up to the stereotypical “tough man” that I thought I had to be. I also faced invalidating comments from my classmates, who told me there was “no way I could have an eating disorder” or “I don’t look ‘anorexic’”. 

I internalized all of those painful feelings because I thought no one would understand.

In my grade 12 year I was hospitalized yet again and applied to university in hospital. It was then that I made the conscious choice to ask for more intensive support and I decided to commit to recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic cut my treatment program short and made recovery initially more difficult. Through asking for more virtual support, day by day I got closer to my goal of attending a university that fall. In addition to the long and challenging recovery from my eating disorders that I faced,  I also had to battle the stigma that I internalized. 

Battling the stigma that I internalized meant changing my perception of what it meant for me to live with mental illness. In my recovery journey, I learned that having a mental illness does not make me or anyone else “weak” or “crazy”. In fact, I learned that living with and battling mental illness is a sign of strength. I discovered that seeing a therapist and taking medications to treat my mental illnesses does not make me any less of a man. 

I did make it to my goal of going to university, and now I am a chemistry and psychology double major at Trent University. After being well on my way to recovery, I decided to work towards becoming a mental health advocate. I am involved in various advocacy organizations at my university and beyond.

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to continue to share my lived experience through the Stigma-Free Society. 

Author,

Sterling Renzoni 

Stigma-Free Society School and Community Presenter

Get trained to be a Rural Peer Support Group Facilitator and Support your Community!

Stigma-Free Society in partnership with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH are going to be hosting Peer Support Facilitator Trainings in the upcoming months as part of its Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit

Peer support is a way for individuals with a similar background to connect with each other and ensure that they are taking care of themselves on their specific needs and experiences. Peer support workers are trained on how to work with individuals with lived experiences that are reflective of their own and support from a place of empathy and understanding. This program is designed to truly empower both the support worker and the individual seeking support, as they work together, sharing experiences and developing wellness-related skills. 

The Stigma-Free Society is offering Peer Support Facilitator Training sessions four times a year, providing the opportunity for individuals to become certified peer support workers. Participants will be trained to become leaders of peer support groups in their community. Each training is tailored to support specific groups such as farmers, Indigenous leaders, rural youth and more. The training will be offered in partnership with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, a remarkable organization that is currently offering online peer facilitator training for individuals and families. 

The first Peer Support Facilitator Training session will be a tailored training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs. Working as an entrepreneur in a rural area can often feel isolating, and many individuals struggle with a lack of support, which can lead to anxiety and burnout. No one understands the life and struggles of women living and working as entrepreneurs in rural communities better than those who have that shared experience. These unique challenges are best supported by those who have been through similar things and can empathize from a place of deep understanding.

In this training, Rural Women Entrepreneurs will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals and learn how to apply them effectively when supporting their peers facing similar challenges. They will also learn how to effectively communicate and share personal experiences to enhance interactions as a peer supporter and support group facilitator. Participants will gain an understanding of the importance of self-care and how to apply this practice in their lives. Finally, and most importantly, individuals will learn how to become great peer support facilitators! This work is extremely rewarding and can lead to so many amazing opportunities for trainees.

Individuals who participate in this training will be able to apply the skills they learn to do work that is nourishing and steeped with care and empathy.

The Peer Support Facilitator Training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs will be a 2-day virtual course taking place on

July 21st and 28th , 2021, from 9AM PST – 5PM PST (with breaks).

Registration is by Donation to the Stigma-Free Society.

To register for this remarkable program, or a future training, please click HERE to visit our peer support landing page.

We Matter Helps Indigenous Youth See That They MATTER

Who is ‘WE MATTER’ Exactly?

We Matter is a national, youth-led organization that is dedicated to providing Indigenous youth with a space for them to feel hope and have their mental health supported. The organization was started in response to the disproportionately high suicide rates found among Indigenous youth in Canada. Danika Vessel, Director of Partnership and Outreach for We Matter, also acknowledges the other mental health concerns facing Indigenous youth, such as addiction, abuse, and inter-generational trauma, that the We Matter campaign addresses in their programming and resource development.

We Matter supports Indigenous youth from nations all across the country who are struggling with various mental health issues and other intersecting forms of stigma. They are an strengths-based organization that promotes hope, community, storytelling and culture to combat mental health issues faced by Indigenous youth.

What programs does We Matter offer?

One of their primary ways of engaging in this work is through their video message campaign. Anyone who feels compelled to share stories  of hope and messages of love and support can do so through this platform. They also feature art and stories on their website for those who feel compelled to share their experience through a medium other than video messages.

The We Matter Ambassador of Hope program is a space where Indigenous youth, aged 16-26, can come together and learn how to become ambassadors for their communities. Each year, a cohort of 40 Indigenous youth come together at the Hope Forum where they learn how to facilitate, share their experiences in sharing circles and learn from each other. Danika notes that “for myself, I can’t describe it any better than becoming a family”. The connectedness that this program offers provides young people with family and community while they learn and grow. Ambassadors of Hope can then do community presentations, where they are given the opportunity to spread hope and share their culture with others.

The newest addition to the We Matter campaign is their Two-Spirit Dictionary. This resource speaks to the Two-Spirit gender identity that has existed in Indigenous communities for centuries. The dictionary promotes the concept that gender identity is fluid and provides a platform for Two-Spirit identities to be acknowledged and understood.

How can those working towards allyship get involved with We Matter?

For those who do not belong to an Indigenous nation but want to get involved in the incredible work We Matter is doing, there are a few opportunities they can explore. The first is creating a video message for the We Matter video library. This video can be one of hope, love, support and care, speaking from the position of an ally. Additionally, We Matter has created many resources that are designed to educate non-Indigenous individuals about some of the issues facing Indigenous youth, but also about the beauty of their stories and their culture. These resources can be implemented in classrooms, workplaces and community gatherings. Inviting an Ambassador of Hope to speak at is another way allies can support We Matter. There’s also the Hope Pact, where individuals as well as schools, community groups, workplaces and other groups can pledge to support and spread hope for Indigenous youth across the country. Finally, monetary donations to We Matter go directly to supporting their impacting work and initiatives.

What’s coming up at We Matter?

Indigenous youth can apply till May 31, 2021 to join the Ambassadors of Hope program and attend the virtual Hope Forum in the summer of 2021. Indigenous youth ages 16-26 who are interested in joining the AOH program can get in touch with We Matter to see about eligibility.

Additionally, at the beginning of June, 2021, the #IndigenousYouthRise COVID-19 Support Fund will start up again. This support fund is designed to aid Indigenous youth, aged 13-30, in their efforts to support wellness in their community by providing them with up to $1,000 to lead an online event or virtual project. Projects include arts based workshops and gatherings, online concerts, talent shows or performances, educational webinars, and so much more. Danika highlights that “this is a great way for anybody, even if they’re not part of the Ambassador program, to apply and be able to put on an activity to be able to support their community and bring hope, culture and strength to other Indigenous youth”.

Author, Samara Liberman