Mount Royal University acts on mental health awareness

Maladjusted play stages interactive theatre experience at Mount Royal University

Mount Royal is no stranger to mental health awareness, between the President's Task Force on Student Mental Health as well as initiatives such as Mental Help Month, there is a plethora of proactive student, staff and faculty-led projects and initiatives taking place across campus.

However, an interactive theatre experience, Maladjusted, just shed light on the issue in a way that the campus had never seen before. On March 10 and 11, Maladjusted (a Theatre for Living play) portraying mental health challenges in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities made a two-day stop at Mount Royal University's Ross Glen Hall on its 2015 BC/AB tour.

Maladjusted play scene
- Photo courtesy of Theatre for Living

Alberta Health Services called upon Mount Royal and the University of Calgary to co-host the event and join forces to welcome maladjusted to Calgary with the help of MRU's Iniskm Centre, Wellness Centre, MRU Diversity and Human Rights and the Calgary Urban Aboriginal Initiatives as sponsoring partners.

With both events selling out weeks before, Maladjusted gathered students, community members and agency representatives to create solutions to address gaps that exist in the mental health system, through its forum-theatre mandate.

"In 2012, we began to hear great concern from the community about the real problems people faced when navigating through a mental health system that is overwhelmingly mechanized, as a patient, caregiver or loved one," said David Diamond, artistic and managing director for Theatre for Living.

"We thought this conversation would make for great content to talk about the stuff people are not talking about - that's the kind of theatre we like to make."

The play shone the spotlight on the trials and tribulations unique to two individuals suffering from mental health disorders, Danielle Williams, a teenage girl misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression, and Jack Richards, a young homeless man dealing with dependency issues. The play was performed the first time with just the actors and set outcomes for the characters. A second run invited audience members to intervene in a scene that they wanted to play out in a different, more positive way in attempts to find better outcomes.

From mental health care providers to students who have been touched by mental health issues personally or through the suffering of a loved one, the grassroots initiative showed the importance of humanizing the mental health system and dispelling the mechanization of systems in place to help individuals dealing with these sorts of issues.

"Mount Royal has always been at the forefront of building relationships with Aboriginal communities and awareness around social issues," said Francesca Simon, Wellness Services administrator at Mount Royal.

"Through our new Aboriginal strategy and supporting projects like Maladjusted, we hope to engage with our Aboriginal communities and make Aboriginal students feel welcomed."

Mental health has been made a top priority at Mount Royal from President David Docherty and continues to remain prevalent in the day-to-day happenings on campus and through the services offered to faculty, staff and students.

"I believe we have gained a better understanding and appreciation for mental challenges facing our Aboriginal youth today, and we must now take a systems approach to see how we can deal with those challenges," said Chad London, Dean, Faculty of Health and Community Studies.

March 17, 2015 - Laura Camelo