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

Don’t Miss the Stigma-Free Silent Auction! Open Until May 9th

We’ve Added to the Fundraiser!

The Stigma-Free Society’s Hope and Help Fundraiser for Mental Health has a new silent auction component!

The Stigma-Free Society is excited to announce the Mini Silent Auction as part of our Hope and Help Fundraiser for Mental Health! Mental health is such an important cause to be supporting, now more than ever. We need your help to grow and expand our initiatives that tackle mental health stigma, and stigma in all forms!

The fundraiser now has 3 components:

The Stigma-Free Stories Premiere Documentary (BUY TICKETS HERE),

The Live Stream Stigma-Free Marathon (DONATE HERE), and now the Mini Silent Auction!

The silent auction, which began on April 29th 2021 and ends May 9th 2021 at midnight, provides you the opportunity to bid on auction items from local BC vendors! All of the proceeds of this auction will go towards our impacting mental health initiatives and resources.

Some of the amazing auction items include: 

  • A $100 Gift Certificate to Robyn Constantia Designs
  • A $50 Gift Certificate to Good Omen
  • A $75 Gift Certificate to Luna Collective

AND MORE!

Supporting this fundraiser will go directly to contributing to:

  • Program Development
  • Program Delivery
  • Helping our Charity adapt through this difficult time of COVID-19 and allow us to continue offering valuable educational mental health resources
  • Marketing and promotion of our programs by expanding the reach of the program.
  • Supporting our Stigma-Free Society staff financially
  • Engaging experts on mental health and education to enhance our programs

The programs you will be directly supporting include our Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit, Student Mental Health Toolkit and Virtual Stigma-Free Schools Program! Through your generous donation, we will be able to expand these resources and their reach in supporting the mental health and well-being of more people than ever!

Starting April 29th, join us for our Mini Silent Auction! And don’t forget to check out the other components of the Hope and Help Fundraiser for Mental Health!

Happy Bidding and Thank You to our Sponsors!

Join us at the Stigma-Free Society’s Hope and Help Fundraiser for Mental Health!

Mental health is such an important cause to be supporting, now more than ever. We need your help to grow and expand our initiatives that tackle mental health stigma, and stigma in all forms!

Taking place on May 5th 2021, this fundraiser event has a goal of raising $30,000 for our impacting mental health programs.

Here’s how your contribution will support this work:
  • Program Development and Delivery;
  • Helping our Charity adapt through this difficult time of COVID-19 and allow us to continue offering valuable educational mental health resources;
  • Marketing and promotion of our programs by expanding the reach of the program;
  • Supporting our Stigma-Free Society staff financially; and
  • Engaging experts on mental health and education to enhance our programs.

*The programs you will be directly supporting include:

Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit

Student Mental Health Toolkit

Virtual Stigma-Free Schools Program

Through your generous donation, we will be able to expand these resources in supporting the mental health and well-being of more people than ever! We are a Charity that is aiming for North American heights and we need your help!

 

The Fundraiser will have Two Components: 

  1. The Stigma-Free Stories Premiere Documentary – May 5th, 2021 @ 7:00pm (PST) (All Ages – Rated G)

 Click Here to Purchase Tickets for $25 each!

 

  1. Facebook/YouTube Livestream Stigma-Free Marathon – May 5th @ 10:00am – 2:00pm (PST)

This portion of the fundraiser will take place on two streaming platforms:

The Stigma-Free Society’s Facebook page and YouTube channel

More updates to come on this event!

Become a Sponsor of the Fundraiser:

If you want to get involved even more, you can sponsor the event! Sponsorship is also advantageous for you, and here’s how:

  • We will use our social media, websites, newsletter and more to promote your amazing foundation or business if you choose to sponsor us.
  • Number of Social Media Followers: 8,000+
  • Number of Newsletter Subscribers: 800+
  • All sponsors will receive Tax Receipts for amounts over $25 for their donation.

    You can donate to the charity directly by clicking here!

Check out the Fundraiser Tab on our website for more information about sponsorship levels from bronze to platinum!

At the Stigma-Free Society, we are continuously inspired by the support of our community. Your support is the reason that we are able to do such valuable and important work in breaking down stigma and supporting people’s mental health and well-being.

Thank you so much in advance for your support!

~The Stigma-Free Team

We Have Launched! NEW Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit

The Stigma-Free Society is proud to announce the launch of our Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit!

Individuals living in rural and agricultural communities across North America are experiencing unique challenges to their mental health. This is where the Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit comes in. At The Stigma-Free Society, we are constantly striving to fill the gaps in mental health resources, provide individuals from all walks of life with the tools they need to improve their mental wellness and work at overcoming stigma.

Visit our NEW Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit HERE!

The information and resources in the Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit are directly tailored to those living in rural and agricultural communities.

The extremely interactive Toolkit is broken down into different categories such as:

  • Seniors,
  • Families,
  • Youth,
  • Farmers and more!

The Society provides specialized resources and support for the unique challenges these audiences experience. The Toolkit also provides general mental wellness tips and suggestions that are relevant for anyone living in rural or agricultural communities. We are also launching a Peer Support Program Facilitator Training Program in partnership with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH where individuals living in these communities act as mental health supports for each other.

Along with our current and new partners, Stigma-Free Society hopes to reach those living in rural and agriculture communities who may be feeling alone in their mental health struggles with the Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit.

We hope that by sharing stories, resources and information about mental health, we can begin the process of overcoming the stigma surrounding these issues and serve the needs of those experiencing mental health challenges living in rural and agricultural communities across Canada and beyond.

Whether you live in a rural or agricultural community, or not, we encourage you to take a look at our new toolkit! The resources provided and the stories shared exist to inspire anyone struggling with their mental health or looking to improve their mental wellness.

Thank you for your support as always!

AutismBC Earns a Stigma-Free Zone Designation

The Stigma-Free Society is proud to announce AutismBC’s official designation as a Stigma-Free Zone!

Over the past year, AutismBC has been working with Stigma-Free Society in order to overcome barriers to full inclusion, diversity and equity within the organization. Having the awareness that their organization has room to grow in these areas was a powerful starting point to becoming stigma-free. From there, they have been working with Stigma-Free Society to make changes to their organization. Their efforts have not gone unrecognized by Stigma-Free Society, and we are so excited to announce their Stigma-Free Zone designation.

AutismBC has taken on inclusivity initiatives and made fundamental changes to their organization in order to achieve this designation.

Some of these important initiatives include:

  • Electing two new board members that will help them better represent their community’s diversity, launching a new website with inclusive language and content;
  • Supporting staff through the challenges of COVID-19 by doing staff polls;
  • Having open conversations about self-care;
  • Allowing for staff-led scheduling and workload adjustments;
  • Adding additional team connection meetings weekly; and
  • Showcasing a diverse range of community stories on their social media.

AutismBC’s Commitment to Inclusivity

Not only have there been practical changes made in the organization, there has also been a discernible cultural shift that has highlights inclusion, diversity and fostering a deeper sense of community. AutismBC is committed to continuing to embed a learning culture by having ongoing conversations about how to stay engaged in progressive discussions, receive feedback, and remain open to suggestions on improving.

All of these efforts and actions are why AutismBC has now been given the official title of a Stigma-Free Zone. These changes have occurred because of the work of individuals who are committed to ensuring that anyone seeking support from AutismBC feels as though they are being heard, acknowledged and represented by and within the organization. Understanding the importance of culturally reflective programming, stories, staff and resources to meet the needs of the diverse populations seeking support from AutismBC has driven these changes and created a new culture within the organization.

Julia Boyle, Executive Director at AutismBC, shares,

“I can see that the changes we’ve made and the culture we are building are working. We still have a lot of work to do, but luckily, we have great people to support us at Stigma-Free Society, and we get valuable feedback from our members and followers. Creating a safe space for non-judgmental discussion is at the heart of it; we’ve all been both humbled and empowered.”

AutismBC is committed to continuing to learn, listen and grow as an organization and Stigma-Free Society will be alongside them on this journey, supporting their efforts in every way we can. We are so grateful to be associated with an organization that is making tangible changes better serve their community.

Meet our Stigma-Free Scholarship Winner Megan!

“I really had to grieve my changed sense of identity when I was diagnosed, at first, because I took it hard.”

These were Megan’s thoughts as she remembered the moment she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago. Megan struggled with a lot of self-stigma and biases that had come from what she had seen in the media. It was a huge transitional moment.

We, at the Stigma-Free Society are so proud of Megan for all she has overcome and we are extremely excited to announce her as one of our scholarship winners for post-secondary education offered in partnership with the Otsuka Lundbeck Alliance!

Megan plans to put her scholarship money towards her education as she is currently enrolled in the Post-Degree Diploma in Accounting at Camosun College. She aspires to become a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA).

Throughout her undergraduate years, Megan excelled in her Math degree and was invited to fly across the country to present her research where she earned many accolades and was told her presentation was a favorite of the day.

We feel that this is an incredible achievement, particularly because this was during the time of Megan’s mental illness diagnosis.

About two years ago, Megan was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I and faced a lot of stigma. Not only was Megan struggling with her own transition, but she realized that she was being treated differently by her community and even her close friends. This caused her to feel isolated during her undergraduate education.

She was able to find acceptance and compassion through her support group – one that she was recently able to reconnect with due to transitioning online this year.

Megan’s lived experience with bipolar has taught her to extend more acceptance, compassion, and kindness to others.

A big source of inspiration for Megan is her mother. She states that her mother is a life-long learner – something that has been passed onto her. In addition, her mother has always been encouraging and has been a huge source of support for her.

Given all that she has experienced, what advice would Megan give to her younger self and to others?

“Put yourself out there more”.

By putting herself out there, Megan has had so many opportunities that were previously stifled by negative self-talk. Megan’s message to others is: Be kind and do not judge others. We do not know what the people around us may be experiencing and the impact our words may have on them.

Congratulations on your scholarship and good luck Megan!

Author, Raman Dhaliwal, Stigma-Free Intern, Adler University

 

Meet our Scholarship Winner – Trisha Cull

 

We are extremely proud to introduce to you Trisha Cull, winner of the Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance and Stigma-Free Society Scholarship. Registered in the Inter-professional Mental Health & Addictions (IMHA) post-graduate program at Camosun College, Trisha will use this money to help pay for her tuition and books, something she wasn’t sure how she was going to pay for prior to being awarded this scholarship.

These scholarships are given to inspirational individuals who are passionate about eliminating stigma and who strive to make a positive change in the field of mental health.

Trisha’s Story:

Trisha had her first depressive episode when she was 16-years and diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder twenty years later. For years, she felt inadequate and weak for not being able to overcome her mental illness on her own and lived with a significant amount of stigma – some self-imposed and the rest from an abusive partner. Trisha also suffered from bulimia, self-medicated with alcohol and drugs, and struggled with low self-esteem much of her life.

Hope, strength and courage gradually replaced the stigma she experienced, lived and eventually overcame. She is grateful for both her failures and victories along the way as they have given her insight into what so many others experience and have helped shape the person she has become. Trisha no longer settles for abusive partners and recognizes her own strength and bravery.

At 46 years old, Trisha has published a memoir that details her journey with mental illness. She is already making a significant difference in the field of mental health and will continue to do so throughout her education and life.

Trisha aspires to work with youth, specifically, she is working towards becoming a mental health support worker for youth struggling with eating disorders. Trisha would also like to pursue an MA in counselling in the near future.

A message from Trisha:

When asked what message she would like to give to others Trisha said,

“If you are struggling, reach out and get help. It takes incredible strength to seek help, you have to be very brave to do that, especially in a society where there is so much stigma surrounding mental health and substance use. It is okay to ask for help. You are not alone.”

Congratulations on your scholarship, Trisha! We are excited to see the amazing work you are going to do in the field of mental health and to help reduce stigma. We are beyond proud to announce you as one of our scholarship winners. Good luck to you in school and your future endeavors!

Thank you to the Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance for making these scholarships possible.

Author, Cosette Leblanc, Stigma-Free Intern, Adler University