I am sure all of you have seen the posts and emails indicating the different mental health resources and counsellors that are available on campus if you need to talk to someone. However, it never feels like enough. Somebody died. It makes me upset that we were too late. We were not able to help someone who was one of us. Someone who, just like each one of us, came to UofT with goals, dreams and aspirations. Someone who wanted to make something of themselves and hoped for a bright future. I cannot help feeling like in some way we have failed them.
In times like this, we usually begin to point fingers at the faculty: “UofT should acknowledge these incidences”, “The University should give more importance to mental health”, “It’s like they don’t even care”. In the last six months, UofT has made more of an effort to address mental health issues. They started a mental health task force and last week the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering even eliminated the ranking system that showed students where they placed in their classes, a change appreciated by many. I am not saying that this is enough. The faculty still has a long way to go, but they have made some initial steps. Only time will tell how effective these measures are and there is no doubt that more will be needed.
However, aside from the faculty, there are things that we as students can do to make a difference. Most of us are not licensed counsellors. We are not in a position to provide professional mental health. But, there are certain things that we say and do everyday that could do more harm than good and we need to learn to be aware of them.
For starters, I would like to point out that when somebody tells you that they are overwhelmed or stressed, one of the worst things you can reply with is “But, school just started!”. It makes the person feel like if they cannot manage this now, there is no way they will be able to survive the next few weeks. It makes them feel weak and incapable, like maybe there’s something wrong with them. Maybe this is easy for everyone else and they are just not cut out for this. I do not know how many of you have been on the receiving end of this comment, but as someone who has, I can tell you right now, it does not help. It only adds on to the stress because now not only am I overwhelmed, but I also feel incompetent.
Everybody’s situation is different. You cannot compare someone else’s situation to your own. Yes, there’s only one problem set due this week, but Sam has to work at his part-time job every night and is in classes all day. She is afraid to ask for help because everyone else in her class thought the problem set was “so easy”. There are things we say that seem like no big deal, but the impact they can have on somebody who is in distress is something you cannot understand unless you have been on the other side.
When somebody tells you that they are stressed out, the last thing you should do is to try to explain to them why they have no reason to be. People are allowed to feel how they feel. They have their reasons for it; reasons that you may not understand. But that does not give you the right to invalidate their feelings. It makes them feel like there is nobody out there who understands what they are going through. It makes it harder for them to ask for help.
I am in my fifth year at UofT. I have only made it this far because I had some amazing friends beside me who were there to listen to me when I was overwhelmed, who held me when everything felt like it was falling apart and who listened, with no judgement, when I talked. All I am saying is that we as a community need to be there for each other. Be careful with your words, listen more and try to understand where the other person is coming from. Sometimes, it is okay to not be okay and to ask for help. Because, trust me, there are people out there who genuinely want to help.
Mental Health Resources If You or Someone You Know is Distressed:
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
- Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
- Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
- Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
- U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030