Three second-year students have started a new mental health club at St. Thomas University. The club’s co-president, Patrice Cammarano, said STU is doing a great job regarding mental health, but feels they’re missing an important point. He wants students to share their stories about mental health, something the club plans to do through social media among other initiatives intended to raise awareness.
“If students are not able to share their experiences with mental illness, other students who are not directly affected by mental health will continue to perpetuate the stigma as they will continue to believe this problem doesn’t affect any STU students,” he said.
The club, called the STU Mental Health Society, plans to educate students about mental health, fundraise money for mental health charities and organize wellness activities for students. They want students with mental health issues to be able to share their stories with others and seek support if they need it.
Cammarano is joined by co-president Ashley Thornton and wellness coordinator Claire Leighton.
Thornton has struggled with mental health since she was a child. She grew up in a household where domestic violence was present and has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, body image issues and depression.
Thornton said even though STU is an open-minded university, she still feels there is a lot of stigma around mental health on campus and she’d like to change that.
“We want to show others that people are suffering on campus even if you don’t know they are,” she said. “The goal is going to kind of help with the stigma,” she said.
Leighton said her relationship with mental health has shaped her and she wants to spend her life bringing information about health and wellness to people, especially young ones.
“There’s so much information out there that would have saved me many horrible years,” she said.
Throughout the year, the club will fundraise to donate money to charities, like the Thomas Keats Organization. It was created after Thomas Keats, someone both Cammarano and Thornton knew, committed suicide.
“This organization is really close to us because we grew up in the Fredericton area,” said Cammarano.
“It’s his family that decided to create an organization just to promote it and make people more aware that it’s an issue.”
The club is separate from STU’s mental health services and Peer Support Centre. However, they have been in contact with Kelly Humber Kelly, mental health coordinator at STU, to partner up and create an information board on campus.
The board will be in a busy spot on campus and will have information and resources on a monthly mental health topic.
“One month it could be body image issues and the next month it could be mood disorders or healthy eating, and how that affects your mental health,” said Thornton.
They are also looking at partnering up with Humber Kelly for the Peer Support Centre. Cammarano said their partnership is still in the early stages of planning.
The club isn’t looking to fill executive positions for this academic year. For now, it’s just looking for general members who would participate in the self-care activities the club organizes.
Cammarano said so far, 60 students have expressed their interest in joining the club.
“Students are really loving the idea, and lots of students told us it’s something we needed,” he said.
The club sold 60 scrunchies at the clubs and societies fair this past Thursday. They also raised $300. Half will be donated to mental health charities and half will go towards the club’s funds. They will have another fundraiser at the the Cellar Pub on Oct. 10.
Both Thornton and Cammarano are excited about donating money to mental health charities. Thornton said she’s excited about sharing her own struggles with mental health and helping others share theirs.
“[The club is] a space for people to feel comfortable to share their stories,” she said.