Emerge Above the Stigma offers mental health advice

Published On March 22, 2019 | By Stefanie Ucci | Life

Rachel Tolkin speaking to the audience at the Emerge Above the Stigma event at Humber College North campus on March 19. The event aimed to provide tools to undergraduate students to maintain a positive mental health during their transition into the work force. (Stefanie Ucci)

Stefanie Ucci

Students from the University of Guelph-Humber (UGH) hosted Emerge Above the Stigma, a seminar about prioritizing mental health at a young age.

The free event was held at The Centre for Urban Ecology at Humber North’s campus on March 19.

Emerge is a group comprising of fourth-year media students and the purpose of the event was to provide undergraduates with the tools needed to maintain a positive mental health as they embark into working professionals.

The speakers — Michelle McClure, Rachel Tolkin and Dominic Faoro — each shared personal experiences with mental health setbacks and overcoming stigmas.

The running theme through each person’s speech revolved around maintaining happiness and positive mental health through all of life’s challenges.

Michelle McClure during question and answer period after her speech at the Emerge Above the Stigma event at Humber’s North campus on March 19. The event aimed to provide tools to undergraduate students to maintain a positive mental health during their transition into the work force. (Stefanie Ucci)

McClure, executive director of Ability Online, has 29 years of experience in online therapy for kids with disabilities. The types of disabilities include physical, developmental, cognitive, intellectual and most recently mental health.

She is the only staff member of the program which is offered free of charge and has 7,000 members across Canada including students with mental health challenges who offer help and guidance.

“It’s all peer-to-peer support which at the end of the day is more valuable than anything else,” McClure said. “It’s a lot easier to get advice from a peer who’s walked that path before you and has tried a strategy that’s worked for them as opposed to a professional saying, ‘do this because it’s good for you.’”

She shared her own experience with anxiety and said that during her university education she discovered the counselling services which were “life changing” at a time when she was having unexplained anxiety attacks.

“All I know was that I was waking up and my heart was pounding and I didn’t know why,” McClure said.

She offered advice to the audience about taking control of their life and building a balance in order to reduce fatigue and mental health challenges.

“One third of your time should be spent sleeping, one third of your time in a day should be spent either in school or at work, but the other third of that day should be spent in leisure, doing something for yourself,” she said.

On top of her work at Ability Online, McClure said she also mentors 50 UGH Justice students in need of support.

She said she has built a career on having an open mind and letting life show her the path she’s meant to take.

Faoro, account executive at LinkedIn, discussed taking control of their happiness during their job search.

He said it’s important to continuously take a step back and figure out what is motivating and will provide happiness in life.

“There’s something that I noticed with a lot of young professionals, it’s called the ‘achiever’s fever’ and what that means is we’re not necessarily looking to be happy with what we have right now,” Faoro said.

He said so many people work so hard to get somewhere but don’t enjoy the process and keep pushing until there is no finish line in sight.

“You really need to take a step back and figure out intrinsically what’s motivating you and what’s going to make you happy,” Faoro said.

Dominic Faoro answering audience questions at the Emerge Above the Stigma event at Humber College North campus on March 19. The event aimed to provide tools to undergraduate students to maintain a positive mental health during their transition into the work force. (Stefanie Ucci)

He graduated from university in 2015 and said his current job at LinkedIn helps companies develop strategies on their platforms and focuses on obtaining new customers.

Faoro said LinkedIn creates economic opportunities for every person regardless of their job status, which offers hope to new graduates who are anxious about the competitive workforce.

Tolkin, communications specialist at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), is a young professional who shared her personal challenges with mental health.

She said she has battled anxiety and depression from a young age, which encouraged her to work in a field where she could use her knowledge and experience to help others.

“What drew me to CMHA Toronto was that they promoted this recovery and wellbeing not only for their clients but for their staff as well,” Tolkin said.

Tolkin said it’s important to prioritize mental health when transitioning from student to working professional.

She offered five tips:

  • Don’t make a timeline of success, create a positive support system.
  • Don’t make comparisons to peers, interview the interviewer during the job hiring process.
  • Evaluate your job every three months.

Tolkin finished her speech with an interactive game she called the Pledge of Self Care where she passed around a ball to audience members and had them share their own pledges for their mental health and wellbeing.

Despite her own mental health battles, Tolkin said she has a huge passion for advocating for others while she overcomes her own anxiety and depression.

She said it took her a while to realize that she was not in a state of recovery yet.

“Mental health recovery is so much more than just being medicated and seeing a professional,” Tolkin said. “To me, what I learned was that recovery was the personal process of gaining control, meaning, and purpose in my life.”

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