A Men­tal Health Ini­tia­tive for Marystown

Chair of the Re­cre­ation Com­mit­tee, Loretta Lewis de­scribes a new ap­proach to men­tal health aware­ness

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - BY MAR­TINE BLUE mar­[email protected]

As the prin­ci­pal of Keyin Col­lege in Burin, Loretta Lewis has seen men­tal health is­sues neg­a­tively af­fect­ing stu­dent’s lives.

“Stu­dents reg­u­larly ex­pe­ri­ence anx­i­ety dis­or­ders or breakdowns. It’s so com­mon. Just about each week we have two to three stu­dents vis­it­ing walkin clin­ics to deal with men­tal health chal­lenges.”

She said ex­ams can be a source of much stress, many stu­dents don’t know where to turn for help or how to cope.

“That’s when de­pres­sion and iso­la­tion set in.”

As chair of Marystown’s re­cre­ation com­mit­tee, Lewis be­lieves that strik­ing a sub­com­mit­tee to ad­vance men­tal health aware­ness will help main­tain the well-be­ing of the com­mu­nity as a whole. “We’re see­ing too many sui­cides on the Burin Penin­sula. Too many youth, their cop­ing skills are not de­vel­oped. As a so­ci­ety we have to pro­vide re­sources so peo­ple know where to get help.”

Lewis main­tains peo­ple need a space where they can feel free to dis­cuss what they are go­ing through openly. She pro­poses a phys­i­cal room with a warm invit­ing en­vi­ron­ment that pro­motes re­lax­ation and dis­cus­sion. She en­vi­sions it filled with books, board games and mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. Soft light­ing is im­por­tant and so is min­i­miz­ing dis­trac­tions. Lewis wants to cre­ate a place where peo­ple can re­lax, talk and con­nect with other peo­ple.

“It’s nice for these folks to have an­other out­let or com­fort zone, a place where no-one feels in­tim­i­dated, no-one feels em­bar­rassed,

I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t talk about it.

guilty or shamed for openly dis­cussing what they are go­ing through.”

Lewis sees or­ga­ni­za­tions like the YMCA, the col­lege or The Merge as pos­si­bly be­ing a good fit to pro­vide the space.

Lunch hour pro­grams, fo­cus­ing on both the body and the soul, in­volv­ing walks with friends, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic or play­ing it, yoga, and med­i­ta­tion ses­sions are other ideas Lewis would like to ex­plore. “The more ac­tiv­ity peo­ple en­gage in, the health­ier they will be­come, ” she ex­plained.

The key, said Lewis, “is to pro­mote dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties, to en­gage peo­ple more one-on-one. To look at find­ing ways to help peo­ple be­lieve in them­selves and to build a buddy sys­tem for sup­port so peo­ple feel com­fort­able chat­ting with some­one.” She also ad­vo­cates check­ing in with peo­ple who might other­wise slip off the radar.

In an ef­fort to in­clude all age groups, Lewis in­vited 19-yearold Keyin Col­lege stu­dent Jimmy Bon­nell to be­come in­volved with the sub-com­mit­tee.

Bon­nell started a men­tal health group in his school af­ter deal­ing with sev­eral trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences when he was younger, in­clud­ing be­ing on sui­cide watch twice. Bon­nell un­der­stands the crit­i­cal need to pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple feel safe to dis­cuss any­thing they are go­ing through.

“Peo­ple are suf­fer­ing like I suf­fered, feel­ing alone. I want peo­ple to talk about it and not hide in a room like I did. I want them to feel com­fort­able. It’s life-sav­ing, talk­ing about it. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t talk about it.”

Lewis out­lined the next steps for her com­mit­tee are to “strike the sub-com­mit­tee, come up with a cre­ative name for it, de­velop a so­cial me­dia page, de­velop work­shops, and reach out to dif­fer­ent groups of­fer­ing men­tal health ser­vices to spread the word.” She also plans to pro­duce in­for­ma­tional brochures and mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als.

“Word is al­ready get­ting out,” Lewis added. “Some won­der­ful peo­ple are com­ing for­ward to help. It’s so ex­cit­ing.”

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