By Isaiah Hazelwood, Trinity News Senior Editor
Sunday, October 10, marked World Mental Health day. First celebrated in 1992, the annual event is a collaborative endeavour between the World Health Organization and the World Federation for Mental Health. At its core, it aims to provide education, improve awareness, and destigmatize perceptions of mental health. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent sexual assaults at Western University, and other recent events make mental health a particularly important topic this year.
In commemoration of this day, the Trinity Times wants to highlight two student groups involved in improving student mental health: the Trinity College Mental Health Initiative (TCMHI) and Trinity Against Sexual Assault and Harassment (TASAH).
Aria Lorenz, the Co-president of TCMHI, offered a short interview about the TCMHI, the support it provides, and other mental health groups at Trinity College. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Isaiah Hazelwood: How would you describe the TCMHI?
Aria Lorenz: The TCMHI is a levied club that aims to provide members of college with information about mental health issues and facilitate awareness and de-stigmatization through various platforms. Our goal is to foster open conversations about mental health in a safe environment.
IH: How have you been working to achieve those goals?
AL: The TCMHI achieves this goal through offering workshops, hosting wellness and de-stressing activities and events, maintaining a resource database, and striving to have an active presence in the community.
IH: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted student life over the last academic year. How did it impact your activities and events?
AL: The impact of COVID-19 meant that our traditional in-person events and workshops had to be moved online and adjusted to account for the serious impact of COVID-19 on student mental health. We’re currently still online and are currently updating our resource database to reflect changes from COVID-19.
IH: What activities are you planning for this upcoming academic year?
AL: This year, we’ve been focused on Outreach and fostering communication & discussion. This October 10th, on World Mental Health Day, the TCMHI is partnering with the Non-Resident Affairs Committee to host an online mental health check-in, which focuses on fostering discussion around mental health and wellbeing.
Following that, the club has been planning more activities in the weeks to come, centred around student stress from midterms and finals and the impacts that have on mental health.
IH: What other groups or individuals would you recommend for students seeking mental health support?
AL: The Community Wellness Centre in the Office of the Dean of Students is a great resource to check out. Ramata Tarawally is the Associate Director of Community Wellness, and a great person to help with health and wellness needs. Additionally, there are two fantastic Community Wellness Coordinators, Jamie and Soorosh, and the Mental Health Peer Advisors who are always willing to connect one-on-one with students and offer support. The Office of the Dean of Students can also refer students to Trinity’s on-site counsellor from the U of T Health and Wellness Centre.
Outside of Trinity, there is the wonderful student-run University of Toronto Mental Health Association and the university’s Health and Wellness Centre.
For mental health support pertaining to academics, students can contact the Trinity Office of the Registrar, which offers personal advising. Additionally, Accessibility Services can work with students to help navigate barriers to their academic success.
IH: Last question, is there anything you think Trinity College, U of T, or other groups should change with regards to their approaches to mental health?
AL: It should be emphasized, university-wide, that mental health services should be simple, easy and quick to access. Sometimes, support systems can be overly bureaucratic or hard to navigate, which dissuades students from reaching out and getting the help they need.
The TCMHI approaches this by focusing on sharing resources and simplifying the steps needed to access those resources. I think that’s mostly what it boils down to – accessibility. If services are difficult to use, then students simply won’t use them. By making outreach easy & efficient, the incredible work of mental health services will be able to reach as many students as possible.
IH: How would you describe TASAH? How do its goals relate to mental health?
Micak Kalisch: TASAH is a survivor-led initiative focused on both response and prevention-based mechanisms against sexual assault. We take an intersectional approach to our advocacy and educational work, recognizing that creating a culture of consent has positive impacts on students’ mental health and sense of safety. Survivors of sexual violence often face a wide range of both short-term and long-term mental health challenges such as PTSD, CPTSD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
IH: How has TASAH been working toward those goals?
MK: Since I restarted TASAH in 2019, we have held several events, workshops, fundraisers, and educational campaigns surrounding gender-based violence. A full list of our activities last year is available here, but some of the most notable ones include raising over $1800 for them women and family shelter RedDoor, partnering with UTSEC to distribute free safe sex supplies in Trinity College and St. Hilda’s residence, and organizing the Empowered Bystander Intervention Workshop with The Dandelion Initiative.
IH: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted student life in the last academic year. How did it impact your events and activities?
MK: TASAH continued to focus on creating a safe environment, but now both in-person and online. We utilized our social media platforms, provided peer support through zoom, and implemented a mail-out program so students could access menstrual and safe sex supplies. We also acknowledged the rates of domestic violence skyrocketed during the lockdown, which was a major focus of our work.
IH: What activities are you planning for this upcoming academic year?
MK: We are continuing our mail-out program to provide students with safe sex and menstrual items this year after its successful launch last year. We will be partnering up with the Dandelion Initiative again to hold the Bystander Intervention Workshop, an incredibly successful and re-requested event we held last year. Also, keep an eye out for some trivia nights, and care packages!
IH: What other groups or individuals do you recommend for students seeking mental health support?
MK: There is a lot of great survivor-centric and trauma-informed supports for survivors in Toronto and the GTA. We have a full list of resources here, but one of my favourites for general mental health crisis is the Gerstein crisis centre which has a mobile crisis team. For survivor-specific resources, the 24-hour rape crisis line is multi-lingual and has been very helpful for myself and many survivors I have worked with. The Dandelion Initiative is an amazing resource for survivors, and The PEARS Project is a student-led tri-campus initiative at UofT.
World Mental Health Day has recently passed, but these groups will continue providing services throughout the year. If at any point in this year you want to talk about mental health, need support, or feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, then reach out to the TCMHI, TASAH, Trinity College’s Office of the Dean of Students, or the University of Toronto Mental Health services.