IMSSA Presents: One Brave Night, World’s Largest Photo Awareness Campaign

IMSSA Presents: One Brave Night, World’s Largest Photo Awareness Campaign

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By: Elizabeth Cho

Mental illness affects one in five Canadians annually, and occurs ubiquitously in individuals

from all socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, and levels of education. Over the years, many universities and colleges have stepped forward to implement mental health awareness campaigns and have brought forward considerable effort to remove stigmas surrounding mental health. These stigmas include unwarranted assumptions that individuals with mental health problems are dangerous and unpredictable. However, much of the conversation has been focused on undergraduate students, with virtually no dialogue regarding the graduate student population. A considerable proportion of graduate students combat stress, anxiety, and emotional difficulties on a daily basis. These factors can negatively impact their daily life, sense of wellbeing, and academic performance. Although the reasons for heightened anxiety and stress are multifold, most common explanations include adaption into a new and unfamiliar environment that is largely disconnected from the larger campus community, an immense pressure to succeed academically, and increasing financial and familial burdens. As many graduate students feel overwhelmed, the lack of mental health support and community needs to be addressed. There is an impetus to build wider support networks among graduate communities and create a platform for catalyzing ideas into action.

To tackle the issue of mental health among graduate students, members of the University of Toronto’s Institute of Medical Science Students Association (IMSSA) participated in One Brave
Night (OBN). Founded by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), this annual, nation-wide initiative provides the opportunity for teams or individual ambassadors to stay up one full night in order to reach out, share stories and instill hope for those troubled with mental illness. The first IMSSA coalition for OBN began in 2016, where the event at the time was called “Darkness to Light”. In this event, graduate students within the Institute of Medical Science walked across the city throughout the night and showcased a creative improvised dance routine. A video was also made to capture this memorable event.

This year, OBN has set a new goal–to break the Guinness World record by holding the world’s largest photo awareness campaign. The idea was spurred from “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”; a national art campaign held in Varanasi (India) that aims to generate awareness and improve welfare services for woman. “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” currently holds the world’s record for the greatest art campaign after accepting 302 out of 500 paintings themed around improving social welfare for girls, which are wholly produced by schoolchildren. OBN aspires to break this world record with a target goal of 303 or more posters to be produced and displayed across Toronto for the greater goal of engaging Torontonians in a conversation about mental health. Through this initiative, many advances in promoting mental wellness, destigmatizing the illness, and raising funds toward non-profit organizations will be accomplished.

The highlight of the event consisted of asking participants to illustrate a border describing what mental health means to them. Subsequently, the illustrated border and participant’s photo were merged by CAMH into a final poster. The posters were printed and posted around the city. OBN served to be a memorable way for students to showcase their artwork and freely express their thoughts about mental health. Swapna Mylabathula, a PhD candidate and co-president of IMSSA, commented that it was an opportunity for students who were studying for exams to find a way to destress. She stated, “OBN had [everything] from happiness–not just words and figures–but also colors and expression. It was interesting to be part of something larger.” Katherine Schwenger, the brain behind IMSSA’s OBN, explained that “art is just a different medium for conversation.” Indeed, many participants were thoroughly involved in the process of creating a meaningful piece of art that contributed to an impactful end-goal project.

This memorable event took place at five different locations around campus; CAMH, the Medical Science Building, Sidney Smith Hall Lobby, Grad Room, and Chestnut Residence. Over 300 participants (students, staff, faculty, and visitors) gathered together in an effort to end the stigma of mental health. This year, CAMH raised $704,525.63 in funding by allowing Canadians to step up and share their #OneBraveNight stories.

For more information on upcoming next year’s OBN, or to contact the organizers for more information, please visit: