UMatter is a student-run group at the University of Toronto that is working to raise awareness and break stigmas surrounding mental well-being on campus. To celebrate Mental Illness Awareness Week, which took place from October 1–7, UMatter has curated an exhibition titled the 1000 Words Campaign.
The exhibition, which can be found both online and in the lobby of the Athletic Centre throughout October, presents a series of anonymized photos of students, accompanied by their accounts of mental health’s impact on their personal life.
One student commented on the importance of mental health, and how it should treated with the same concern as physical well-being. Others commented on the stress of school and home life, and the difficulty of seeking accommodation in trying to balance both. Yet another commented on the conflict between maintaining grades and the struggle of losing a loved one. These are just a handful of examples of the diverse experiences of students struggling with mental health.
“The 1000 Words Campaign was in part inspired by Humans of New York (HONY). I liked the way that HONY presented people’s lives and their stories –it was raw, honest and moving,” said Cathy Li, the head of the project, on its inception. “The other thing that inspired my interest in mental health and the 1000 Words Campaign was the people in my life. I found that a lot of people… that I cared about were struggling in their mental wellbeing — that’s not to say that every single person I knew had depression or anxiety, but we were a group of people who were mostly having breakdowns and were stressed, and unhappy,” she added.
The 1000 Words Campaign addresses these issues by attempting to initiate conversations between students about their mental health and personal struggles. These conversations are essential to raise awareness of mental health on campus and address the stigma surrounding it.
“I want the campaign to speak to mental wellness in general — that includes people who have mental illnesses and people who do not struggle with mental illnesses. I want people to see and understand the diversity of stories, experiences and opinions about mental wellness, and I hope people see that every single story or opinion is relevant. I want people to care,” said Li.
The 1000 Words Campaign marks one step toward increasing awareness of mental health issues on campus. Every single photo and quotation is relevant, illustrating the unique experiences of students and how differently people experience issues surrounding mental health. While the campaign translates people’s thoughts and feelings into images, it also illustrates the importance of having these conversations with the people around us. While not everybody may be struggling with mental health, we should all be able to take a moment to listen to those who do.