Opening Minds … in Quebec colleges?

There is a significant fear of being labeled with a mental disorder, which is major reason why we are reluctant to discuss issues with friends, family and health care professionals. Although a major challenge, the stigma associated with mental disorders is often hidden. Yet, the psychosocial impacts are serious and touch many aspects of the affected person’s life. Often, people with a mental disorder even tell us that the stigma and discrimination are more troublesome than the disorder itself.

Fortunately, a growing number of stakeholders from different backgrounds consider the fight against stigma and discrimination an aspect that deserves all of our attention, just as much as mental health care and services. In 2009, the Mental Health Commission of Canada took a decisive step in this direction and launched Opening Minds, the most important initiative ever undertaken in Canada to eradicate the stigma associated with mental disorders. This major initiative prioritizes four targets, specifically youth.

Can Quebec’s college community encourage students to speak openly and positively about mental disorders and take on respectful attitudes and behaviours towards those affected? Initiatives implemented in schools produced promising results. For example, three assessments (Boyer, 2002; Lesage, 2011) concluded that the Partners for Life program was effective. This program aims to demystify mental illness for youth aged 14 years and older, teaching them to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and how to ask for help. An Alberta university also saw positive effects using a contact-based intervention (Lillie, 2011). Based on a meeting followed by a discussion period among people with a mental disorder and students, this type of intervention is already known to be successful with high school students (Stuart, 2006; Pinfold, 2005).

In the future, the college community will benefit from more resources. Following a large-scale assessment of projects across Canada, Opening Minds will be able to contribute to the development of tools to fight against stigmatization based on the most promising practices― support consistent with efforts by the college community to prevent suicide, one of today’s top challenges. Keep a close watch!


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