While many factors that influence mental health—such as physical health, social life, spirituality, and work-life balance—are commonly acknowledged, rarely do we consider how our mental well-being is impacted by the ideas and values we are exposed to everyday.
This year’s Pieces of Mind mental health conference, organized by the Peer Support team and held on the KPU Surrey campus on Oct. 24, focused on this cultural impact as well as techniques for staying happy and healthy.
Peer Support, the student mental health counselling service partnership between KPU and the Kwantlen Student Association, is mostly run by student volunteers who offer one-on-one counselling to other KPU students.
“It’s a super timely theme, and is really applicable to the KPU community,” says Peer Support Coordinator Jennifer Lingbaoan, who was involved with organizing this event and past Pieces of Mind conferences.
“Now more than ever, we have more international students on our campuses and our communities are increasingly more diverse,” she says. “We wanted to make sure that we had a theme that would be relevant to as much of our community as possible.”
During the first half of the day, there was a bhangra dance and a belly dance performance, and volunteers served food from different countries. Afterwards, KPU alumna Jue Wang spoke to the audience about her experiences with having an eating disorder, and KPU student and Peer Support volunteer Jonathan Lau talked about reconciling his parents’ cultural stigmas with recognizing and seeking help for his depression.
“We have to acknowledge that sometimes there are barriers—even the ones we grow up with, our culture—that can make it hard to have those conversations,” says Lingbaoan. “But there are also a lot of really good protective factors that culture can bring to the table when it comes to mental health.”
After the student-speakers made their addresses, there was a panel discussion and keynote speech. The panelists spoke about supporting others in improving their mental health while dealing with cultural barriers.
“The ideas and values that we all carry are different,” says panelist Dr. Tigerson Young, a registered psychologist and adjunct faculty member at KPU, UBC, and TRU. “I think one of the challenges we have here is that we’re not allowing this diversity of values in the community, and as a result it can be really hard to access services.”
As an example, he says that, when the former king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed away in 2016, the mourning period for the country lasted a year. However, in Canada, if someone close to you dies, the culture is less conducive to the mourning process. You are most likely expected to return to work after a much shorter period of time.
“Mental health is this large, broader concept that applies to all of us,” says Lingbaoan. “In the same way [that] we all have physical health, we have our mental health as well, and it needs to be cared for and it needs to be talked about.”