The word on mental health

(Edmonton) Medical students at the University of Alberta are helping spread the word about mental health to faculty, staff, students and the general public this week as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

“This initiative aims to develop a knowledge and understanding of pertinent and prevalent mental health issues,” said second-year medical student Matt Kokotilo, who is on the organizing committee. “We’re hoping to build some more compassionate and open-minded physicians and individuals in the community.”

The initiative is part of a larger association called Medical Students for Mental Health Awareness, which started at the University of Ottawa after a student battled through depression. The University of Alberta’s chapter began in 2005 to raise awareness of mental health issues.

This is something close to Kokotilo’s heart. He majored in psychology in his undergraduate degree and worked at Alberta Hospital as a psychiatric assistant.

“Mental health doesn’t have boundaries,” said Kokotilo. “I think I’ve just been exposed to the issues and have become more aware of how relevant they are to everybody and all the health-care professionals. For me, personally, I just want to promote mental health to other people that haven’t had the same exposure as I’ve had�everything from anxiety and housing issues to depression.”

Mental Health Awareness Week will include lunchtime lectures in the Allard Family Lecture Theatre in the Katz Group Centre for Pharmacy and Health Research:
• Monday: crisis response presented by members of Alberta Health Services crisis team
• Tuesday: Schizophrenia Society of Alberta
• Wednesday: post-traumatic stress disorder presented by the Edmonton Operational Stress Injury Clinic
• Friday: discussion of bipolar affective disorder

On Thursday, a booth fair will be set up on the second floor of the Katz building between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. offering information on a variety of mental health issues.

“It’s an opportunity to get information to help yourself or the people around you,” said Kokotilo. “Even just a friend could be dealing with something and you’ll be able to recognize it a bit better.”