Today is Bell Let’s Talk. I gathered students’ opinions, experiences, and what they’ve noticed at U of T in terms of mental health. Here are some real voices:
It takes time to realize that to be mentally healthy in a stressful environment is really hard. It’s not shameful to find it hard to motivate yourself to do the simple things that make you healthy like sleep. Doing small acts of self-care is the best way to take steps in the right direction. Walks, music, food!
When I reflect on the 4 years I spent at U of T, I believe that the most important life lesson I learned is the importance of self-care. As a life sciences student in a competitive U of T environment, where people constantly talk about (and sometimes obsess over) grades, GPA and research, I also worked hard. My motto was “hard work always pays off”…but I found that I was often putting myself in a hole. There were days where I felt guilty and worthless for not being able to achieve or accomplish certain tasks and expectations. After many breakdowns, I finally came to realize that I shouldn’t be so self-critical, and that taking small breaks when I need them is extremely important for my mental health. No one can keep going at 150% everyday, all day – if you push yourself too much you’re going to crash. So, as I move on to the next stage of my life, I am changing my motto: hard work always pays off…but it’s okay to make mistakes, to have bad days, to do what’s best for myself, and don’t forget to love myself.
– Ayana Sunami
I think a lot of the main issues with mental health at U of T is the lack of community. I’ve noticed it, everyone is in their own bubble and don’t really interact with other students. This could be as a result of the structure of the institution. U of T is scattered across downtown, its a part of the city and Toronto is quite a large and busy city. The accommodation available goes mainly to first year students, and living near campus is highly expensive. As a result most people beyond first year routine themselves to; wake-up and get ready, take transportation to class, work (for some), transport back home, school work, repeat cycle (slide in eating somewhere in the cycle). In this busy routine it can be hard to make friends or build communities in the school. Of course there are college activities, clubs, sports, and other ways to be a part of the school, however time constraints do not always allow this. I’m speaking from a life science student point of view, the first 2 years, where building community would be the easiest, were my busiest school years academically. Being lost in the cycle and work load it’s hard to find time for self-care or to debrief, until that point when your body absolutely needs to.
I think mental health has definitely improved over the last few years in terms of reducing stigma and being more supportive of one another, but the challenge now is making mental health a priority at the systemic level. At U of T, the suicides at Bahen were a clear wake-up call, and it is somewhat encouraging to see that the university made efforts to consult with students through the Mental Health Task Force last semester. However, there is still so much to be done to provide supports in every area and at every level for students. It’s definitely discouraging when there are so many barriers to changing the system, but what’s been inspiring is all the student initiatives which have sprung up, like the U of T Mental Health Policy Council!
– Norene Lach
I’ve always really struggled with my mental health even back in high school. I never really had the proper resources (a proper family doctor, anyone to refer me to proper mental health care etc.) to help treat my mental illnesses and I tried pushing through even though it didn’t work. Once I started university, my mental health really plummeted after not achieving the expectations I had placed upon myself and I was forced to face my reality; to work on my mental health issues. I also had a really hard time with opening up to anyone about how I really felt because my depression and anxiety related to my Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder had left me feeling empty and like a burden. It was hard for me to even talk about being sad with anyone for fear of judgement or being an emotional burden. I’m glad I finally had the courage to reach out to someone when I did because it was the turning point in my life. With their help I finally pursued help by talking with my college Dean of Students about how I truly felt and the Dean helped to refer me to Health & Wellness and Accessibility Services. I know it probably sounds like the same generic story but I don’t want anyone else to be apart of a rising statistic. U of T maybe a harsh, even cold, and competitive environment, but there will always be warm and safe individuals to help you through difficult times. As conversations and resources around mental health become more mainstream, I’m hoping more resources will be allocated to these services so that students like me can finally receive the help they need. The first step to get help is to reach out.
It is so important for us to embrace ourselves, and learn to accept who we are. It’s too easy in uni to get influenced by peers and we lose connections with being who we are, and fail to recognize the small imperfections that have made us unique. Everyone has struggles and no one is perfect. It’s OK to struggle, and knowing that others are also not as put together as they seem is important. You are not alone, when struggling, reach out instead of turning in.
– Kathy Xu
How do you take care of yourself? Feel free to comment below!
(All GIFs are from griphy.com)