Students Tackle Mental Illness Stigma

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Thursday April 28, 2011

Toronto  - Students at 10 Catholic high schools in Toronto are marking Mental Health Week (May 2-6, 2011) with special activities to raise awareness about mental illness and encourage early intervention for teenagers who may be experiencing the first signs of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or psychosis. The first of the student-run weeks kicks off today at Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School and features young people speaking about their personal experiences with mental illness.

“It’s so great to be able to share my experience with other young people who may be feeling the way I did before I was diagnosed with depression,” said Erin Hodgson, one of the speakers at today’s event. “It was through a school assembly that I first realized I needed to talk to someone about how I was feeling. I hope that by sharing my experience students who need help will reach out.”

The Mental Health Week activities are part of a unique partnership, called Stop The Stigma, between the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Through school-wide assemblies at the various high schools, more than 11,000 students will learn about mental illnesses, and what they can do to break down the stigma.

“Our students and staff need to know the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses that can start to affect teenagers,” said Sheila Gilkinson, Student Success Lead Teacher, TCDSB. “Through this program, we are sharing that information and, just as importantly, we are battling the stigma that prevents young people from speaking out and seeking help.”

Getting students to talk openly about mental health is one of the ways the Stop The Stigma program is tackling some worrisome facts: suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people (aged 15 to 34), second only to car accidents; early signs and symptoms of psychosis and other mental illnesses typically begin around age 14 or 15; three out of four young people with a mental health problem don’t get the help they need.

“The best aspect of being part of breaking the silence of mental illness is actually seeing the impact we are making within our own school community,” said Onella Pereira, one of the student organizers at Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School.

“The research shows that early intervention is effective in providing youth and their families with education and awareness to get the support they need. By intervening early, we support youth to go on to lead fulfilling lives,” said Catherine Bancroft, Family and Youth Program Manager at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

Today’s assembly at Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School (685 Military Trail; Morningside Ave/Ellesmere Rd) runs from 8:45 to 11:00 a.m. Dates and times of assemblies at the remaining nine participating schools are listed below. In addition to the school-wide assemblies, students are organizing mental health fairs, yoga sessions, video showings, workshops, art therapy and other activities at each school throughout their designated Stop The Stigma Week.

About the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario ( Informed by the lived experience, the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario serves communities through providing: awareness, education and training; family and youth clinical support; recovery programs; and, peer support.


For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Jennifer Foulds, Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, (416) 486-8046 ext. 232; (647) 771-5815 (cell)

Stop The Stigma Assemblies: Toronto Catholic High Schools

Friday, April 29, 2011
O’Connor College School
10:00 to
11:30 a.m.
60 Rowena Drive, Toronto

Monday, May 2, 2011
Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts
8:30 to 11:15 a.m.
36 Greenfield Avenue, Toronto

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Chaminade College School
9:00 to 11:15 a.m.
490 Queen's Drive, Toronto

Thursday, May 5, 2011
St. Mary’s
Catholic Secondary School
12:25 to
1:30 p.m.
66 Dufferin Park Avenue, Toronto

Monday, May 9, 2011
Dante Alighieri Academy
10:00 to 11:00 a.m.; 1:15 to 2:30 p.m.
60 Playfair Avenue, Toronto

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Neil McNeil High School
9:00 to 10:00 a.m.
127 Victoria Park Avenue

Monday, May 16, 2011
Monsignor Percy Johnson Catholic High School
9:00 - 11:25 a.m.
2170 Kipling Ave, Toronto

Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Bishop Allen Academy
9:00 to 10:00 a.m.
721 Royal York Road, Toronto

Thursday, May 19, 2011
St. Basil-the-Great College School
1:30 to 2:40 p.m.
20 Starview Lane, Toronto