Outrun the Stigma team consults peers on inclusive story sharing

One of Outrun the Stigma’s four core values is a commitment to be inclusive of diverse mental health experiences. We celebrate that immense diversity exists in the communities that people belong to, and that this diversity brings a richness to their experiences that can intersect with mental health. Our values are important to us because they guide our actions and are critical for leadership. By consulting our peers about how to be more inclusive, the Outrun the Stigma team has strived to put our principles and values into action.  

Defining Our Values

Founded by University of Calgary students in 2013, Outrun the Stigma is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to reduce mental health stigma. 

However, the mission of breaking down stigma is not easy. Stigma, which can be defined as “the negative regard, inferior status, and the relative powerlessness that society collectively accords to people who possess a particular characteristic or belong to a particular group or category”[1], is deeply entrenched in societal norms and attitudes. It is a threat to diversity; stigma profoundly affects the way people are perceived by others and it destroys inclusivity by creating damaging divisions between people.  

We work to reduce stigma by hosting an annual run/walk event in Calgary (and expanding across Canada in the future) and encouraging sharing of mental health stories on our website and social media. 

Leadership in Action

One of Outrun the Stigma’s key focuses in story sharing is the need to be inclusive of diverse stories. Noting that engagement with our organization has tended to be primarily university students, many of whom are already a select group of advocates engaged in issues surrounding mental health stigma, the leadership team wanted to address the concern that Outrun the Stigma should find ways to better engage diverse groups within the larger Calgary community in our story sharing initiatives. 

In an effort to learn about ways to be more inclusive as an organization, Amy Li and Leah Shipton (Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors of Outrun the Stigma) organized and presented a peer-consulting session with the support of Dr. Aleem Bharwani (Director of Public Policy and Strategic Partnerships and Scientific Director of the Office of Leadership Development at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary), titled, “Avoiding the Path to Exclusivity.” This session, hosted on August 25th at the University of Calgary Foothills Campus, featured a brief overview of OTS and our challenge to increase our story sharing initiative in a way that is inclusive.

Following their brief presentation, an expert panelist, Anila Lee Yuen (CEO, Centre for Newcomers) and student attendees offered practical and constructive ideas with a focus on problem solving. This provided valuable ideas on new ways to approach community engagement for mental health story sharing. For example, Yuen and student attendees recommend Outrun the Stigma focus on building relationships with the diverse community at university and college campuses across Calgary. Together, the audience, Li and Shipton discussed an idea to design collaborative story sharing workshops that use art, music, dance/movement, photography, film, and writing to support student and community groups to share their mental health stories. 

Altogether, the session helped focus  Outrun the Stigma’s efforts in increasing inclusivity. As a student-led organization, one of our greatest strengths is our connection to students, a connection built over the past four years with direct work in our niche university community. By seeking greater engagement from the group we relate to best - students - the session came full circle with the realization that within the student community there exists a wealth of diversity we can better engage with, and opportunities to expand our reach to more students. The valuable lessons from the peer consultation session have informed our strategic planning by offering clarity in our organization's strengths, our focus for the future, and ideas to engage diverse groups within the student community better. We can’t wait to get started.

This was a refreshing opportunity to consult our peers and an expert from the community about ways to improve our practice as an organization. Amy and I are excited to discuss the feedback with our team, and develop a plan for creating story sharing opportunities with student and community groups based on mutual trust and goals.
— Leah Shipton, Outrun the Stigma

To share your ideas about how Outrun the Stigma can engage with the community for mental health story sharing, you can email simeiamyli@outrunthestigma.ca and leahshipton@outrunthestigma.ca.