Queen’s anti-stigma and mental health research chair to visit St. Andrew’s March 22

Stop the stigma - Dr. Heather Stewart, the Bell Canada mental health and anti-stigma research chair at Queen's University will visit St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Picton March 22. (YouTube screenshot)

Public invited to free discussion on creating a culture of acceptance



A running tag line for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign about mental illness encourages Canadians to “join the conversation.”

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church has grabbed hold of that invitation in hopes of providing a needed public service. Next Thursday, the church will welcome Dr. Heather Stuart, the Bell Canada mental health and anti-stigma research chair at Queen’s University, for a lunch-and-learn session.

Rev. Lynne Donovan, the pastor at St. Andrew’s, said it was an easy decision to try to engage with the public about mental health awareness.

“We want to be of service to the community,” she said. “We’re doing so many interesting things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with Jesus — or they have everything to do with Jesus.”

She said Stuart, who is a social epidemiologist working with the public health sciences, psychiatry, and rehabilitation departments at Queen’s was a natural choice to come speak.

“Her job is to be part of the whole move to educate the wider community around mental health and to provide individuals and communities with some tools to be more kind and more educated,” Donovan said. “She’s so accessible. She’s not pie-in-the-sky up there.”

The world’s first dedicated anti-stigma research chair, Stuart has spoken to audiences across the country with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and internationally with the World Psychiatric Association, where she is a past chair in stigma and mental health science.

Statistics released by the federal health ministry last year suggest one in three Canadians will experience a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. The numbers also suggest that hardship, trauma, stigma, or family violence increase risks posed by suicide, substance abuse, or mental illness.

Stuart’s research has found that education, kindness and conversation can create a culture that’s safer for people who are living with mental health concerns. She’s working toward an open culture where people can speak honestly about the afflictions they face.

“What we don’t realize is that most people recover and are successful in managing their illness,” she said.

In her presentation, Stuart will offer tools to understand mental health issues and tips on creating safe spaces. She encourages people to pay attention to their language, get educated, be kind, listen and ask questions, and start dialogue.

Following the talk, there will be a chance to ask questions of Stuart.

Participants will also have an opportunity to hear well-known Picton businessman Frank Wright share a personal story about his lifelong battle with depression.

“This is a county boy being open,” Donovan said. “Frank will tell his own story, alongside the larger conversation and Heather will facilitate.”

The lunch-and-learn session will take place next Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. All are welcome and there is no charge to attend. Guests are invited to bring a bag lunch. Refreshments will be available.

The event is part of a larger focus on mental health at St. Andrew’s. For the past six Sundays during Lent, it has been a theme explored in regular church services.

The discussion is also a precursor to a special event the church is hosting in partnership with the Recreation Outreach Centre March 28 at 7 p.m. The discussion that evening will be “Youth and Mental Wellbeing”: What Adults Need to Know.” It will feature a panel of local experts.

For more information about the upcoming events, please contact Donovan at 613-476-6024.