For his dedicated advocacy for mental health, Canadian politician Michael Kirby was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD) at the Friday afternoon session of Western’s 309th Convocation.
Kirby spoke to graduates from the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the Faculty of Education and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, asking them to be mindful of teaching and service opportunities in their careers and to provide help to others in a holistic way.
“See them as the entire person they are, and not just as someone you are helping in one specific way,” Kirby said.
“Centuries ago, the medical community severed the head from the body. Doctors treated everything from the neck down. Individuals with a problem from the neck up – with a mental health problem – were burned at the stake as witches, left to wander alone in the wilderness or, as we did in Canada, warehoused in large institutions we called insane asylums,” he continued, asking graduates to be mindful not only of their physical health, but also their mental health.
Kirby urged them to seek help early, if they ever come to need it, to be there for loved ones in need and not to succumb to the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds mental health.
“You need to take action – to seek help – when you find yourself struggling with depression, or feeling down, for a lengthy period of time,” he noted.
“Finally, I want to urge you to not avoid contact with a family member or friend because they are struggling with mental illness. This is the time in their life when they most need your love and support.”