Mental wellness matters to five in five people
Pharmacy student puts positive spin on the conversation about mental health.
By SANDRA PYSKIYWYC
If fourth-year pharmacy student Scott Wakeham has his way, mental health will always be a part of the conversation on the University of Alberta campus.
During the pursuit of his education, Wakeham has become a staunch and passionate advocate for continuing the conversation about the mental health of students.
Prior to final exams in April 2015, Wakeham rallied fellow students to create a dynamic YouTube video highlighting the importance of mental wellness and the resources available to students.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about one in five Canadians will develop a mental illness at some point in their life. The video, which has been viewed nearly ten thousand times, suggests that “five in five Canadians” should be paying attention to their mental well-being, and reminds students that they are not alone.
“It’s important for students to think about their own mental well-being and understand that seeking help is not a sign of weakness,” said Wakeham. “We often fail to see mental health in the same way that we see physical health, and there are often things we can do to help maintain our mental well-being.”
Following the success of the video, Wakeham saw an opportunity to do more. Enlisting the help of clinical assistant professor Candace Necyk, Wakeham set about putting together resources for not only students, but also for course coordinators as well.
“I noticed that resources existed on campus but I wanted to have a place for my fellow students to find information quickly and easily,” said Wakeham. “In my discussions, with Professor Necyk, I also found an opportunity to raise awareness amongst instructors about resources available and also how to assist students facing mental health challenges.”
Necyk, whose research focuses on mental health and addictions, shares Wakeham’s passion for drawing attention to this issue in a positive way.
“Scott is highly motivated and clearly passionate about mental health,” said Necyk. “He came to me with the idea after doing the video, took the initiative and put together the resources quickly.”
Necyk served as the faculty liaison and worked with Wakeham to get the resources for instructors and students posted on the faculty website.
She applauds his commitment to “mental health promotion and putting a healthier spin on it in terms of mental wellness versus mental illness.”
And she has a message for other professors who may see signs of mental health issues in their students.
“I would tell my colleagues that it is important not to turn a blind eye to distress or mental health issues,” said Necyk. “There are so many resources and people available to help students now that it is always better to try and help than to ignore it. We don't have to be experts in mental health to guide students in the right direction and show that we support them.”
For Wakeham, putting these resources together and making them available for students and instructors, is just one way he can make a difference.
“While we had fun putting the video together, the message in it is timeless. We need to have open discussions about mental health and diminish the stigma that exists,” said Wakeham. “It is my hope that the resources will reach students who may need them, and I would challenge everyone to continue to examine how mental health is talked about and work towards creating a supportive environment for these conversations.”