A group of University of Alberta students is hoping a special project will keep mental health top of mind on campus year-round.
The leadership students, led by Dr. Cristina Stasia and a professional production team, have created six videos that highlight mental wellness resources and strategies.
“[On a committee for new suicide prevention framework] we discussed the need for videos that address mental wellness, strategies and resources at the U of A,” Stasia said.
“It was quite a long timeline to get those done. I suggested perhaps my students could make those videos so we could have them by the end of the year.”
Stasia said the initiative received enormous support across campus.
“Mental health is critical to a student’s success. We have these unfortunate stereotypes that millennials are lazy or selfish. My experience, having taught university for 20 years, is entirely the opposite.”
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Students often balance a lot between school, work and volunteering.
“Growing up isn’t easy for most of us to do. While they try to succeed, they are dealing with other issues,” Stasia said. “This is a big campus, 30,000 people. It’s easy to feel alone here. When they feel they are just a number, it’s hard for them to reach out.”
Each video focuses on the unique stresses, challenges and resources for undergrads, graduate students, faculty and staff.
“[The undergrads working on the project] are from faculties across campus. That richness of perspective was really important,” Stasia said. “It also illuminated independent of faculty or ambition, these students all struggle with the same thing and when they reach out they start to feel better.”
Third-year business student Phoebe Marinakis took on the role of director of photography in the project.
“It was surprising to see how the video interviews were all common themes. It was very emotional to see how brave these people were to come forward and share difficult stories to talk about,” Marinakis said.
She said she has experienced her own challenges on campus.
“I struggled with, essentially, impostor syndrome. I’m constantly around very impressive, ambitious, intelligent people. I’m thinking, ‘Am I as accomplished as them? Am I out of place?’ This project helped foster discussions that we are all feeling the same way.”
The stories told by fellow students and faculty members had a big impact on the young filmmakers.
“I see that students are [always comparing themselves]. They think they are the only ones struggling. Everyone else is on top of everything. It can be a lonely feeling. In the video, the students share that’s not the case.”
Bimbola Oyewunmi is in his fourth year at the University of Alberta, studying psychology.
He had a directing role in the vodcast project and said it was challenging to encompass a big topic in a few short videos.
“We found we could give people basic messages on how to better take care of yourself. People don’t have to internalize issues that they feel are unique to them, when we all go through the same thing,” Oyewunmi said. “I’ve been through the Fort McMurray fires. There were a lot of mental-health challenges coming from there. The project has helped me learn about my own mental health.”
He said his group had a big task, wrapping up the series with a “concluding idea or theme.”
“I found the big message is that we are all here. No one has to go through this alone. We have a call to action — we try to show people this is a concerted effort. We give a view inside our campus community.”
The Metro Cinema screening on April 8 will be the first time many of the students have seen the completed body of work.
“It’s very exciting. All of this hard work, all of these hard interviews will finally come to the screen. Hopefully we can see how impact this vodcast can be for people,” Oyewunmi said.
The team hopes the vulnerability displayed in the series will create powerful resonance.
“They invested so far above and beyond what I could have ever hoped for. I’m so excited to see their work on the big screen,” Stasia said. “And support will be on hand during or after the screening for anyone wanting to talk.”
The videos launch the #UALBERTACARES campaign. You can watch the trailer here.