As I head to the free depression screening taking place in the SUB, it is inevitable that I will run into a familiar face on campus. And should they casually inquire where I am headed, will I tell them the truth? That could get awkward. Is discussing one’s mental health appropriate in casual conversation, or is there a stigma still attached to the topic?
It certainly felt like there was when the student working the welcome desk asked if I was there for a ‘session’ or if I was a volunteer. I felt my pulse race just a bit as I told her I was therefor the depression screening, slight heat came into my cheeks, and suddenly my eyes seemed glued to the floor.
I actually had to suppress the urge to explain my presence there. “I don’t think I’m depressed, I’m just a reporter,” I wanted to tell her. Why was it so important she know that? Was the idea of being there out of concern for my mental health – the intended reason for the event – so bad?
Of course not.
Despite the smiling laid-back volunteers and Dal’s stripy tiger mascot, the atmosphere at the event remained hushed and a little shy, but certainly welcoming. Along one wall was an inviting table of drinks and goodies (greatly appreciated by one participant who left with a fistful of licorice tucked in his pocket).
There were also information booths set up by the many mental health-related groups, both from the university and the community, who came together to make this event happen. This included the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia (APNS), who generously donated the professional psychologists who were onsite for free consultations.
Asking the right questions
The actual ‘screening’ portion of the event consisted of a surprisingly brief questionnaire which I was handed as I arrived. The nine questions were straightforward and addressed different symptoms that could indicate depression, like fatigue, loss of or overactive appetite, poor self-image, and trouble concentrating.
The most important question though, as one of the psychologists pointed out to me, was at the bottom: How difficult have these problems made it for you to do your work, take care of things at home, or get along with other people?
Naturally we all have times when we are tired, or feeling down on ourselves. It’s when these feelings start disrupting our daily lives that a change is needed.
After tallying up your score on the questionnaire, you could refer to a corresponding scale that indicated the severity of your depression. However an emboldened disclaimer reminded the participant that this was only a screening, not a diagnosis.
At this point, you could opt to meet privately with one of the psychologists at the event to discuss any questions you might have about the screening or your mental health in general. This was probably the most helpful portion of the event, due to the fact that high demand and long wait lists can mean months of delay before getting an appointment at public practices around the city.
The event was also a great opportunity to learn more about the different resources that are available, including Dalhousie’s Counselling Services (located in the SUB) which students can visit any time to make an appointment.
Removing the stigma
Co-chair for the event, Lynne Robinson (President of APNS and also a Dalhousie professor with the School of Health and Human Performance), said the aim of the event was “to help people, and also to remove the stigma that still surrounds depression.” She hopes to see Beyond the Blues become a regular event on campus.
The event was made possible, also, with the support of Organizational Health, Counseling Services, Student Health Promotion, the Centre for Learning and Teaching, and the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry.
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