When I attended don training a couple years back, we were told a fact that I could not forget: the reason most students wait so long to seek mental health support is because they don’t believe they’re stressed enough to deserve it. From an outside perspective, this seems ridiculous. I’ve talked to students who are barely sleeping, absolutely miserable, and even passively suicidal, who keep insisting that “everyone is this stressed” and “I don’t want to make a big deal of this.” When I talk to those students, it’s so clear that they need assistance — be it peer counselling, professional counselling, registering with accessibility services, or getting medication. However, I get it. I get exactly why they tell themselves they’re fine, because I was there too.
I had a very difficult first year. My high school friends were scattered across the country. I was commuting. And Toronto hadn’t had a winter that cold and long in years. I was crying every night, feeling debilitating FOMO, and pretty much just wanted to hibernate throughout the entire second semester. I realized late that I needed to get help, and even then, I did so reluctantly, asking myself constantly whether I was just being weak, being dramatic, being a burden — whether I was truly miserable enough.
In retrospect, that damaging — and prevalent — mindset makes no sense. After all, we would not think of our friends as weak, dramatic, or burdensome if they sought our help. We also don’t just go to the doctor when we’re on the brink of life. In fact, regular checkups are recommended and necessary, particularly when we sense that something is wrong. The same holds true for mental health, and though that might not necessarily mean going to the doctor every month, it can mean reaching out to supportive resources on campus to check in, examine your options, and ease the burden.
In my four years at U of T, not a semester has gone by without my seeking support. Here are some of the groups I’ve been with — all free and on or near campus.
Dons are available at every college and faculty, even for commuter students, and all are trained to provide referrals to a wealth of resources on campus. Talking to a don is perfect when you’re seeking support or a pick-me-up (or chocolate or a hot drink) but don’t need consistent counselling. Sometimes, I stop by the commuter don drop-in hours at the end of the day just to see a friendly face.
Counseline was an important source of support for me in my first year. I barely needed to wait a week before I got an appointment and was able to see a social worker student for counselling for eight weeks. While it was not professional psychiatric support, it was enough to make a difference. A close friend of mine also tried the service and found it just as helpful.
I was on the counselling waitlist at Planned Parenthood for fourteen months, which was ridiculous. During that time, they did make efforts to connect me to community resources, other clinics, and workshops. Though none of the other clinics panned out, I did enjoy a weekly mindfulness meditation series for a couple months (U of T also offers free drop-in meditation classes now), and the physicians there were all very supportive during that time. When I finally got off the waitlist, the counselling was incredibly helpful and productive, though capped at one year.
The registrar’s office deals primarily with academic counselling rather than personal, however, the two can be much intertwined. This is where to go if you’re seeking an extension or don’t feel capable of writing exams and/or assignments. The registrar can help contact your professor and speak on your behalf, as well as let you know your options for deferral. If you’re feeling stressed, not worrying about assignments can make a big difference.
Although I haven’t personally used the services, professional counsellors are also available at the Health and Wellness Centre, as well as onsite at certain colleges and faculties, such as Victoria College. Appointments can be made in-person, by calling 416-978-8030, or online (after your first appointment) at my.healthandwellness.utoronto.ca.