Young people open up about the stigma of mental illness


The feelings of hopelessness, sadness and worthlessness and recurring thoughts of suicide overwhelmed Sheridan alumnus Catia Aguiar for years before she finally sought help from a counsellor on campus.

A graduate from the social service worker program, Aguiar, 24, knew she needed to seek help after experiencing symptoms of depression for many years.

“It was in my last year at Sheridan College, and I knew I had to figure out what was up with me after so many years of feeling sad, worthless and believing I would never amount to anything,” she said. “I was going to burst into a million pieces if I didn’t get help.”


According to Statistics Canada, youths aged 15-24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders than any other age group.

Despite its prevalence, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness. However, there are many events and services that aim to increase awareness and reduce stigma. Mental health awareness events like Bell Let’s Talk Day and the counselling services offered on many university and college campuses are important resources for youth and students to gain knowledge and start getting help.

“More students are now finding that they need the help,” said Tae Hwang, a counsellor at Sheridan for eight years. “Counselling is so accessible here at the College.”

Counselling services at Sheridan not only helps those with mental health issues or mental health diagnoses, but also helps students experiencing any type of crisis, such as financial, academics, or relational, says Hwang.

“We also work closely with the doctors [at the health centre],” he said. “We partner up with the doctors, counsellors and the nurses. Whether it’s medical or psychiatric, we’ll make sure that they’re looked after.”

During his eight years at Sheridan, Hwang saw how mental illness slowly became accepted.

“With Bell Let’s Talk, that whole mental health awareness, it’s exploding where more people are now not afraid to go for help,” Hwang said. “Before it was a negative stigma . . . and now it’s becoming more of a regular practice for a lot of students and people in the community.”

Counselling services offers drop-ins for students, and a six-session model is used for individual appointments. If after the six sessions they need more help, counsellors will try to get them connected to psychologists or other counselling services outside of Sheridan, says Hwang.

The drop-ins really helped Aguiar take the first steps toward help.

“[Drop-in counselling] was less stressful than making a first appointment, which I ended up cancelling from being so nervous,” she said. “The drop-in, while short, made me realize that counselling was exactly what I needed.”

Aguiar’s road to recovery was difficult, filled with doubts and multiple suicide attempts. When she started noticing she had symptoms of depression, she knew she had to see a counsellor.

“My counsellor was extremely supportive and was there for me from the start,” she said. “We talked about my depression openly. I was finally being understood and was accepted.”

Acceptance from peers, family and friends can be difficult for those with mental health problems. People may not have support from friends or family because they may be judgmental, says Hwang.

Deepanu Sumbriya, 19, a first-year Art Fundamentals student, sees why some students might be hesitant to seek counselling services.

“Me, myself, I don’t like to share personal things because you might feel like the other person might judge you,” she said.

The best way to break the stigma is to help and support others suffering from mental illness and to share personal stories.

“If you have gone through it yourself and received help, you’re much better at sharing,” said Hwang. “When more people talk about it, and more people share their conditions, it becomes more normal.”

Last year, Sheridan hosted a SheridanTalk where speakers shared their experience with mental illness. Aguiar was one of the speakers.

“It was my first time sharing my mental health experience to such a large crowd. I kept wondering, ‘What will they think of me after?’ Facing that fear and getting on that stage felt amazing. I felt so supported and welcomed,” she said.

According to Hwang, counselling services is planning another SheridanTalk this year.

Aguiar’s choice to seek help empowered her to accept her mental health problems.

“Seeing a counsellor was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “I was able to open up not only to her, but to myself and to others. I know now that my mental health does not make me abnormal, it has strengthened me a great deal.”

Counselling services can be reached at:

  • Trafalgar Campus: B104, ext. 2521
  • Davis Campus: B230, ext. 5400
  • HMC Campus: Welcome Desk, ext. 2528

Or visit the counselling website for more info.