It culminated on April Fools’ Day, but the all-night event at Centennial College’s East York campus on March 31-April 1 was no joke.
Students and staff at the Carlaw Avenue college put on something called “Up All Night” — part of a short-term campaign that the students created to raise awareness around mental health in the workplace and funds for agencies that promote it.
The event was overseen by Donna Lindell, coordinator of the school’s public relations program. She said Up All Night was the product of an ongoing campus initiative for social action, called Project Fusion. Project Fusion, in turn, has received support from a local agency that helps facilitate campaigns around social issues, called Civic Action.
One in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue or illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Whether they are dealing with stress or depression, one in five Canadians will toss and turn all night or wander through their day — frustrated, sad, or afraid.
So, in solidarity, “Up All Night” ran for 12 hours, from 7 p.m. on March 31 to 7 a.m. on April 1. Observer reporter Scout McCraw made a night of it too, and filed this report:
7 p.m., welcome and registration: Students, faculty and special guests piled into the main foyer where they could collect name tags, snacks, raffle tickets and buttons emblazoned with “Be kind” and “Help a friend.”
7:30 p.m., expert panel on mental health: Centennial journalism Prof. Ted Barris moderated a discussion on mental health in a work and school environment. The panel featured: Sam Fiorella, founder of The Friendship Bench project; Linda Weichel, the vice-president of initiatives at CivicAction; Eric Dunn, a counsellor at Centennial; Monika Mielnik, a human resources consultant at Bell Canada; and Evan Luke, a Centennial student. The panel discussed the stigma surrounding mental health and the importance of talking to somebody. Dunn took the opportunity — what with all of the prospective employers in the room — to point out that students with mental health issues are not any less capable, that they are doing all of their work even with all the stress.
“These are not walking wounded,” he said. And Luke offered a point of view from one of those students. He admitted that he was one of those ‘one in five’ and that originally, he thought he should just deal with his issues on his own — before finally realizing that he needed to talk to someone. The response when he finally did was “really authentic,” he said.
9:10 p.m., speed dating: But not really. Employers were given the chance to talk one-on-one with students (the soon-to-be-employed). Students could ask questions and share their thoughts while employers could dispense their knowledge about the stresses of entering the workforce.
9:30 p.m., president’s remarks: The president of Centennial College, Ann Buller, addressed the group, commending everyone on their dedication to the cause and emphasizing the importance of talking to someone about mental health issues. Talking about it “doesn’t show weakness,” Buller said. “It shows strength.”
10 p.m., the Friendship Bench workshop: Fiorella founded the Friendship Bench project in April 2015, a few months after his 19-year-old son, Lucas, took his own life. He said that in the aftermath of Lucas’ death, one woman came forward to share a story about how he saved her life simply by saying “Hello.” Other people came forward with similar stories about Lucas, and this inspired Fiorella to start #YellowIsForHello, a campaign which aims to install yellow benches on college and university campuses. The yellow bench is meant to make students stop, think, talk, and maybe say hello to someone.
11:15 p.m., raffle winners announced: Winners of the raffle collected some awesome prizes, including art supplies, free yoga and belly dancing classes and Revlon makeup, Smarties and Second Cup gift baskets.
11:30 p.m., pizza break: Everyone took a much-needed break, complete with pizza, colouring pages and live music, including student bands like Kunle and Crashing For Red.
12 a.m., dance performance: First-year Centennial dance program students performed their take on the famous Bob Fosse choreography from the 1969 film, Sweet Charity, before getting everyone to join in for a quick dance party.
3 a.m., Netflix: While the live music continued at one end of the school, some got comfy at the other end for some popcorn and a showing of Forrest Gump.
4 a.m., ping-pong: Participants seemed to shed their fatigue and embrace their competitive side when they took part in a ping-pong tournament.
5:30 a.m., laughter yoga: Lynn Himmelman, a certified “laughter yoga” teacher, refreshed everybody with meditation, breathing exercises and laughter yoga, meant to reduce stress.
6:30 a.m., pancake breakfast: The overnight adventure ended with a big pancake breakfast. And, of course, a lot of coffee.