Fingerprints support mental health

Saint Mary’s students ink up to add their prints to mural in support of mental health (Photo: Jillian Morgan)

SMU mural project uses fingerprints to raise awareness


Students at Saint Mary’s University are lending a hand, or rather a finger, to improve mental health.

There is “no right way” to recover from mental illness, says Michaela Harris, project volunteer – every person’s experience is unique, like a fingerprint.

Harris is a member of Saint Mary’s University Healthy Minds in Halifax, a team of student volunteers and two coordinators who raise awareness about mental health.

The group has teamed up with Find Your Light Mental Health Support – a non-profit Halifax organization that provides re- sources, education and peer support to those living with a mental illness – to create The Fingerprint Project.

Saint Mary’s students placed their fingers in ink and left their mark on a soon-to-be mural.

They were encouraged to then write a word that represented mental health and recovery on

a second canvas. The words in- cluded: “food,” “music,” “sleep,” “family,” “hope,” “patience” and “courage.”

“Mental health is dealt with better when it’s in the open but when it’s put in the closet and hidden in the dark people suffer more,” says Harris.

“We don’t want people to suffer any more.”

The mural is intended to remove the stigma from mental health and to show community support for those living with mental illness.

Once complete, it will be framed and displayed in the uni- versity’s counseling centre, an on-campus service for students that provides general counseling and life coaching.

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20 per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime and youth account for 10 to 20 of this number.

About 3.2 million Canadians between the ages of 12 and 19 are at risk for developing depression and suicide is one of the leading

causes of death for Canadians aged 15-24.

Alex Vandervalk, a third- year psychology student at Saint Mary’s, says mental illness is “a normal thing that people have to live with.”

She added her fingerprint to the mural.

“In adolescence, people feel very detached from the world

around them and they’re trying to find themselves and trying to learn more about themselves, so I think just having that support and starting it out very young is great,” she says.

Alycia Dort, chief executive officer, founder and president of Find Your Light, says having a mental illness can feel “like somebody has turned off your light.”

The Mental Health Founda- tion of Nova Scotia reports that over 200,000 Nova Scotians live with mental illness.

“Everybody has a unique struggle and a unique past,” says Dort.

“When you have everybody standing together to make that difference, it’s very, very powerful.”