One Student’s Opinion on Mental Health

Posted on: March 11, 2018

This article is inspired by a post on the Waterloo subreddit, titled, “I tried to kill myself yesterday. Here are my thoughts on the recent suicide.” The author opened with this disclaimer: “I’m not trying to detract attention from the guy who died but I’m genuinely surprised at the overlap and how closely I match his profile.”

He makes the following point: “Throwing blame to UW or course load or whatever is easy and makes us feel like we’re doing something about the problem. And maybe you are, maybe the pressure does add more counsellors or creates new mental health groups. But what about the people in your life? An organization can only do so much.”

After each suicide, we all blame the university. We say that they do not provide the resources for students who need help. They do not support students with mental health issues. They do not discuss mental health enough.

But the university does have mental health resources. They have counsellors – many students had discouraging or unprofessional experiences trying to use these services, and it is horrifying that vulnerable students were in this situation. But counselling services has helped others. There are hotlines that people can call. MATES is a peer support group in which volunteers are trained to address such issues as depression, anxiety, etc. These resources are advertised.

There is an effort to talk more about mental health, such as EngSoc’s mental health awareness blog, and the President has addressed it on his blog as well. Any lack of discussion is due to the stigma, which is a societal problem and not specific to the university.

We also say that the very need for more counsellors indicates a problem at an institutional level. Instead of trying to fix mental health problems, why create it in the first place? Why is Waterloo so hard?

I know that school is stressful.

We as students have a lot of responsibilities. We take five, six, or seven courses, which have labs, projects, midterms, and assignments. We apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. We have extracurriculars, such as design teams and other clubs.

First years have the additional stress of transitioning. Fourth years have the additional stress of FYDP and seeking full-time employment. Tuition continues to increase. There is the pressure of rankings. There is the pressure of getting the perfect co-op. We were all top of our class in high school; as a result, the shock of losing this status takes a while to come to terms with.

I know that the course load is intense, but the university must adhere to the standard of academic rigour they have established. I know that job applications are intense, but that is the nature of the beast – we come here partially or entirely for the co-op program, and we expect to get a co-op placement.

The problem is not necessarily what the school does to us. It is what we do to each other.

UW attracts a certain type of person. We (as the general student population) are not nice people.

We are willing to screw each other over for our own benefit. Or sometimes, with no ulterior motive other than bringing another person down.

We judge each other, based on perceived intelligence. Forget the stigma about mental health: there’s so much stigma surrounding “smartness”.

This is the irony: almost everyone coming in experiences the shock of no longer being “smart,” and almost everyone is going through it alone. We all judge each other while pretending to be smart – consequently, you feel like the only “dumb” one. We isolate ourselves, and each other.

We judge each other, based on experience or lack thereof. Marks are generally not a major concern, as long as you pass the term with a 60 average. But if you didn’t go to Cali, you failed.

This is the irony: say “I got position X at company Y” to an undergrad at any other school, and they are jealous that we have these opportunities. But say that to a fellow UW student, and we look down our noses. We don’t always say it, but we are thinking of it: you aren’t good enough or smart enough.

Last term, when job rankings came out, I didn’t go to class. I knew it would be the only topic under discussion, and I did not want to participate in that.

Now, the million dollar question: why is a certain type of person attracted to this university, and certain programs in particular? What changes do we need at an institutional level? I couldn’t say. But there is so much room for change at an individual level.

People need to learn to be decent. Help each other. Check in with people. Make sure your friends and classmates are mentally okay. Be nice. The author of the post said, “A friend that messaged me out of the blue saved me.”

We all have a personal responsibility to reach out to the people in our lives. I hate to sound cliché, but I legitimately believe this: it starts with you.

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