Mental health on university campuses, high schools, and amongst the general public has been an increasingly important topic in recent years, often making front page news. In an effort to reach out to the community and go “beyond the ivory tower,” Mindfest was conceived as a way to begin a conversation about mental health, in the setting of a mental health and wellness fair open to everyone to learn, ask questions, and feel welcome. We do not have to wait for “bad news” to talk about mental health. In fact, it can be fun, inspirational, and rejuvenating!
Launched in 2013 as part of an anti-stigma initiative, Mindfest has become an annual event organized by the Department of Psychiatry at University of Toronto to promote awareness, dialogue, and increased understanding about mental health and mental illness. Reaching over 500 people annually, its goals are to decrease stigma related to mental illness, share advances in the mental health field, and increase awareness of available resources and services on campus and in the community. Geared towards high school students, university students, and the general public, Mindfest offers lectures by psychiatric experts and people with lived experience, opportunities for experiential learning, and booths in the beautiful Great Hall at Hart House to learn more about available resources in the community. One of our main goals is fostering dialogue on everything from mental health promotion to current treatment approaches for mental illness, exploring new perspective and solutions together.
The topics covered at Mindfest are diverse, from challenges faced by youth and adolescents (bullying, technology, autism, ADHD); to understanding the experience of and recovery from depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia; to issues with addictions, dementia, and suicide. The perspectives are just as wide, covering everything from neuroscience research to sociocultural issues facing indigenous communities and Métis, immigrants and refugees. Mindfest also addresses everyday mental health issues that impact us all, like psychological health in the workplace. We have had panels on spirituality and mental health, and speakers and demonstrations from the intersection of the arts and mental health including theatre, music, film, and painting. The formats are deliberately diverse to engage everyone’s learning style, from didactic to experiential and from scientific to artistic. We are excited to have inspiring speakers, multidisciplinary professionals, people with lived experience, families, students, and community partners all taking part in planning and putting on the event together.
Over the years we have partnered with other universities including OCAD, Ryerson, and York; held “mindfulness walks” connecting downtown campuses, connected with many community partners, and planned some fabulous film nights with Workman Arts at TIFF Lightbox and on campus.
We are also grateful to have enthusiastic participation from healthcare institutions, community agencies, and other community services every year. Our interactive booths and exhibitors from previous years have included: Centre for Youth Bipolar Disorder, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre; Canadian BFRB Support Network; Rise Asset Development; Hong Fook Mental Health Association; Toronto Public Health - Healthy Schools and Substance Misuse Prevention; Big White Wall; A-WAY Express; Ontario Expressive Arts Therapy Association; Family Support Program – Michael Garron Hospital; Right Now; National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC); Starts with Me Inc; Sunnybrook Family Navigation Project; Centre for Depression and Suicide Studies – St Michael’s Hospital; and Connecting the Dots - Inner City Family Health and others.
A wide spectrum of high caliber keynotes and seminar leaders have offered us their unique knowledge, insights, and experiences, greatly contributing to our mental health dialogue. They enlighten us not only at an intellectual level, but also engage and move us deeply, cultivating more compassion and understanding. Some of our past notable speakers have included marathon runner and mental health advocate Jean Paul Bedard (see his inspirational 2017 talk on Cultivating Resilience on our website), playwright and actress Colleen Taffe, Parkdale-High Park M.P. Arif Virani, writers Jan Wong and Camilla Gibb, Dr. Tom Ungar with TVO’s Steve Paikin, sports journalist Michael Landsberg, and many more.
Please join us on Wednesday March 11th, 2020 at Hart House on the Downtown U of T campus for this exciting and educational event. We will have keynote speakers from Stella’s Place, Jack.org, and faculty from the Department of Psychiatry including Drs. Juveria Zaheer, Andrea Levinson, and Mark Sinyor, as well as interactive sessions for high school and university students to discuss transitions to university, yoga, and qi-gong sessions. If you would like to contribute to this event in any way, please feel free to contact us. Together, we can decrease stigma, increase understanding about mental health, and promote our collective well-being!
About the authors
Lisa Andermann, MPhil, MD, FRCPC
Dr. Lisa Andermann is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she works in the Psychological Trauma Clinic as well as the Ethnocultural Assertive Community Treatment Team. Dr. Andermann is a consultant psychiatrist for the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. She is co-founder of the New Beginnings refugee clinic at CAMH. Her main areas of interest in research and teaching focus on cultural psychiatry. She has been part of the Toronto-Addis Ababa Psychiatry Program (TAAPP) since its inception in 2003, assisting in the development of the first psychiatry residency training program in Ethiopia. She has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from McGill University, where she completed her medical studies, and a graduate degree in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University.
Kenneth Fung, MD, FRCPC, MSc, FAPA, FCPA
Dr. Kenneth Fung is a Staff Psychiatrist and Clinical Director of the Asian Initiative in Mental Health Program at the Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network, and Associate Professor with Equity, Gender, and Populations Division at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto. His primary research, teaching, and clinical interests include both cultural psychiatry and psychotherapy. He is the Block Co-coordinator of the Cultural Psychiatry Core Seminars for psychiatry residents at the university. He is the seminar co-lead and psychotherapy supervisor in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) at the University Health Network, and teaches and conducts research in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). He has been involved in community-based research projects related to HIV, mental health stigma, immigrant and refugee mental health, and parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is psychiatric consultant to the Hong Fook Mental Health Association and is involved in various mental health promotion and education projects as well as cultural competence training in the community.