Penang World Mental Health Day 2014

By Jasniza Johari. Photos provided by Miss Foo Pei-Lynn and Koh Ti Ming.

The people of Penang had a blast lending their voices for mental health awareness at the state’s celebrations on the 18th of October. An interactive concert was held at DISTED College’s Yeap Chor Ee campus, featuring Jana Stanfield, an award-winning singer-songwriter from the United States and her famed vocalist partner Nathen Aswell from Canada. Various groups under the Mental Health Coalition of Penang (MHCP) also organised several activities for the event, which was open to the general public. This was also a golden event for the Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) students of DISTED, as they got a chance to facilitate certain activities and also get in touch with the mental health network in Penang.

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Miss Silviane Bonadei sharing her psychosocial work experience with DISTED Psychology students at the guest lecture.
Miss Silviane Bonadei sharing her psychosocial work experience with DISTED Psychology students at the guest lecture.

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Participants engaging in the “Human Laughter Wave” during the Laughter Yoga Session facilitated by Jana Stanfield.
Participants engaging in the “Human Laughter Wave” during the Laughter Yoga Session facilitated by Jana Stanfield.

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The event kicked off with a Laughter Yoga session, facilitated by Jana Stanfield herself. Once the participants started to warm up, roaring sounds of laughter were evident throughout the grounds of DISTED College! This merry activity was then followed by an ice-breaking session, where participants were divided into groups. Ice-breaking consisted of a short introductory sharing session, followed by fun games aimed to encourage bonding. The Psychology students were tasked with facilitating games such as “Wind Blows”, a fun-fact spin on the popular game Musical Chairs; and “The Cowboy Game”, where participants were tested on their speed and accuracy of remembering names. Participants had a jolly time in getting to know each other in the process.

The poster and banner-making activity commenced soon after. Participants were given a whole array of art materials and encouraged to let their creative side take over! All they had to do was to express their “voices” through art and share their messages for the mental health community. These messages were aimed at inducing awareness to the general public on issues concerning mental wellbeing. Even young participants had a great time expressing their support for mental health through art – one boy sketched a poster of Captain America as it was his wish to help others in need just like the superhero himself.

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Posters made by a group of participants.
Posters made by a group of participants.

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DISTED Psychology students join Jana and Nathan for a final number during the WMHD event.
DISTED Psychology students join Jana and Nathan for a final number during the WMHD event.

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The many colourful posters and banners displayed in the Hall provided a warm, welcoming spirit to the community that went full-force once the keynote concert began. The concept behind “Let Your Voice Be Heard” was very novel as it included dialogues with several speakers between intervals of live music by Jana Stanfield and Nathen Aswell. Jana played a cover of the song “Secrets” by pop star Mary Lambert among others, and narrated her own experiences throughout the set. Nathen played his unique bass-guitar-piano composite instrument (known as the NS Stick) to the tune of the songs he wrote, mainly centred on positive messages. The crowd sang along and clapped jubilantly throughout the concert. In between songs, several speakers were invited to briefly share on the challenges, experiences and messages for the mental health community and general public. The eye-opening session was then followed by a sharing on the posters and banners made earlier. In groups, participants got to tell stories behind their artworks and share their hopes for the future of Malaysians regardless of their mental health background.

The event concluded with a short prize-giving session to the winners of the Mental Health Quiz organized by Dr. Lynne Yong. The quiz tested participants on their knowledge of mental disorders and many were surprised to find that many key international figures and celebrities also experience issues with mental wellbeing.

Altogether, the participants went home with pleasant experiences and a renewed spirit to continue lending their voices for awareness on mental wellbeing. Feedbacks provided by student facilitators were also positive and encouraging. “It was thought-provoking to listen to others’ experiences with mental health disorders, especially surrounding the stigma in public,” said DISTED student Sivaaruban Prabakaran. “I believe everyone has a part to play in increasing awareness of such issues.”. Student Tan Kelven also added, “The event is really a good opportunity for us students. Not only do we get to meet others who are active in the field, but there is also valuable experience to be learned in facilitating groups.”

All-in-all, the lively combined voices of all participants contributed to the event’s success and has certainly become a vital milestone for the Penang mental health community and DISTED College.