University of Calgary

Demystifying addiction: Campus series seeks to encourage awareness, support

UToday HomeMay 28, 2013

Lauren Denhartog and Derek Luk will be among the hosts of Addictions 101: the Science behind Mental Health and Addiction, taking place June 13, July 18 and July 25.Lauren Denhartog (front row, third from left) and Derek Luk (second row, third from left) will be among the hosts of Addictions 101: the Science behind Mental Health and Addiction, taking place June 13, July 18 and July 25.Addressing mental health issues is increasingly seen as part of every university’s responsibilities. For example, in January, the Alberta government announced a $10.5-million investment to expand student mental health services at post-secondary institutions.

The mental well-being of every member of the university community is of paramount importance and this summer, a group of nursing students will work to bring increased awareness about addictions and mental health to everyone at the University of Calgary.

“From faculty to support staff, undergraduate and graduate students, the goal is increase understanding of self-helping behaviours and resiliency,” explains nursing practice instructor Derek Luk, who, along with two additional faculty, will guide 21 nursing students as they lead Addictions 101: the Science behind Mental Health and Addictions.

A collaboration with the Wellness Centre, Women's Resource Centre and Students’ Union, the awareness campaign will take place over three days — June 13, July 18 and 25 — with a goal to shift the stigma of addictions away from the idea of “personal choice” and more to the neurological deficits that likely cause them.

“When we talk about addictions, most people think of drugs and alcohol,” says fourth-year nursing student Lauren Denhartog, who will be participating in the campaign as part of her mental health rotation. “But there are addictions to gambling, working, shopping, and they can be just as damaging to your mental health.”

For students, Denhartog says there is a lot of pressure to succeed. “We can all be reluctant to ask for help. Part of raising awareness is to reduce the stigma about asking for assistance and then pointing everyone, not just students, in the right direction to get that help.”

Denhartog and her fellow students will use the work of Gabor Maté as a basis for the workshops. Maté's award-winning book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addictions, suggests that addictive behaviour soothes emotional pain, which may be rooted from early life trauma — trauma, Maté says, that should not have happened in childhood.

June 13 will be an open forum, offering up current research on the science of addictions and including guest speakers presenting their experiences related to addressing mental health and stigma. On July 18 and 25, the awareness campaign will be “hands on,” allowing community participants access to resource material and the opportunity to ask questions. A counsellor from the Wellness Centre will be available on June 13 to support those who may need to speak to someone immediately.


“We are still in the planning stages,” says Luk, but the students are working hard to pull together sessions that will educate us all in an interesting way about the resources and supports we have available and also to let individuals know that seeking help is healthy.

To register for the upcoming sessions or for more information, visit


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