York Region student-led international group vows to break down mental illness stigma

Mental health issue is like a tumour. The longer it goes unnoticed, the worse it becomes. In the aftermath of the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, a group of teens growing up in York Region decided to do something to fight for the mental health issues in the community.

Founded in 2020, Underpression (UDP) is an international, student-led mental health organization that aims to advocate and educate the public of mental health issues, with more than 80 executive members in more than five countries.

UDP is based in Markham and Richmond Hill, but after months of expansion, "we are able to impact and inspire youth from across continents" said Henry Li, president of UDP, who is also a senior at Bayview Secondary School in Richmond Hill.

Haley Ma, the vice president of marketing, added that through UDP's social media accounts, they have connected to more than 2,000 people globally and shared information about mental health disorders and tips on taking care of one's mental health.

There are mainly two types of stigma associated with mental illness, Li explained. The negative or discriminating attitudes that others hold about mental illness are referred to as public stigma, while self-stigma refers to the unfavourable sentiments that people with mental illnesses hold regarding their own situation, particularly internalized shame.

UDP hopes to build a safe space for people to get rid of their self-stigmas regarding mental illness, and break the public stigma surrounding it as well. As Andrea He, the vice president of project management, said, "I hope discussions about mental health will continue so that we can help eliminate isolation from those struggling silently."

Since its establishment, UDP has hosted many initiatives, including: the University Webinar, the Mental Health Scavenger Hunt, the Mental Health Cup, as well as the Senior New Year Ecard Event.

During the pandemic, people, especially seniors, were isolated from their families. To spread well-being, UDP gathered students around Canada to design and personalize unique New Year’s cards through an online platform to send to seniors, Li said, ultimately, UDP received and emailed more than 310 cards to homes all across Canada.

The other project that UDP has launched is an anonymous hotline system for those struggling with mental health issues to be able to speak their minds and have a listening ear there to support them.

People from all across the world were able to submit any problems or questions they had about mental health, and the UDP team promptly replied to them. According to Li, so far, they have received more than 250 questions and have given over 700 volunteer hours to high school students across York region.

Li is impressed that UDP is being recognized in a variety of countries, with executive members from Peru, India, and the U.S. "My goal is to help as many people as possible, and with the organization being able to reach so many different cultures, backgrounds, and locations makes me prouder than anything."

Kate Tang, director of project management, said she’s grateful that the community is so inclusive that they can strive to bring sketches of events into reality, and welcomes passionate youths of York region to the organization through the group's web page at https://sites.google.com/view/underpression/home.

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun