If you’ve sat through at least a year of university in the past five years, you’re guaranteed to have heard “mental health” on numerous occasions. In most cases, I’ll see split classrooms: some students will perk up and advocate for how important practicing good mental health is, while others collectively roll their eyes. Usually I roll mine to the point where they pop out of their sockets.
For those who were just as confused as me when I heard mental health and mental illness weren’t the same thing (I get that they relate to each other, but let’s not kid ourselves), here’s a quick breakdown. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental health is a balance of social, physical, spiritual, economic, and psychological aspects. If you think that’s just as ambiguous as I did, it’s simpler to look at it as a spectrum of how you’re feeling on any given day. Some days you feel like Beyonce, while on others you wonder if you’re actually the most miserable person on the planet.
While mental health is a spectrum, mental illness is a diagnosable mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia or depression. According to the CMHA, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Wow, 20 per cent of us are going to be labeled by our eating disorder, depression, schizophrenia, whatever it may be at some point in our lives. How shitty is that?
Is this a problem of ignorance or lack of empathy that some students can’t take anymore “discussion” about mental health seriously? I don’t think so. Let’s do some quick math: take the variable “s” representing a student’s level of stress. Now, “s” is determined by the values of “x,” how many classes a student is in, “y” how many hours a student works per week at a part time job, and “z” any other obligations that you may have. Multiply that all by pi, and 99.9 per cent of the time you’ll find that if you’re a student, you’re probably stressed the fuck out.
In all seriousness, if a fifth of us will experience mental illness in our lives, there’s a pretty good chance you’re already dealing with someone in your immediate family or friends circle who is affected. Pair this with the fact that we’re all stress case students. The result? A grey area where students are unsure of their own mental health situations as they see their family members and peers diagnosed with a mental illness. “Is my anxiety that bad?” “I’m sad sometimes but I don’t think I have depression?” “Is it normal to have these thoughts?” Whether or not you like to admit it, these are all questions we have likely asked ourselves.
Regardless of this grey area, students should really give a shit about mental health since all of us are dealing with it directly or indirectly. But then why do so many of us (myself included) make a mockery of mental health by joking about it? Student apathy isn’t the problem. Our current mental health advocation is.
Mental health campaigns need to emphasize providing action-oriented solutions as opposed to just raising awareness. Too often, conversations start with “Oh, mental health has a stigma behind it, that’s why 49 per cent of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about their problem, but we’re trying to get rid of the stigma by starting a conversation.”
Having conversation after conversation can only do so much. Since mental health and mental illness often go hand in hand, once you open up about your mental health problems, you may end up taking a very medicalized mental illness route as you’re bombarded with brochures, medications and professionals trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with you. It’s easy to see why so many people avoid talking about it whatsoever, as the medical route doesn’t work for everyone. So, then what’s the solution?
To me, action-oriented solutions aren’t as complicated as we make mental health and mental illness out to be. You think students are stressed out during midterms or finals? I’ve never seen a more calm group of students than the ones who are petting the “anti-stress dogs” that come around during finals. I’ve never seen happier students than the ones who get the free snacks that they bring around Rutherford library during finals. These are simple acts that have done more for my mental health than any brochure, professional, or conversation ever has.
It’s beyond me why we don’t have more simple solutions at our university if people are serious about the mental health of our students. It’s a stupid cliche, but “actions speak louder than words.”