After the second student death by suicide at Bahen Centre late last year, UTSG students have pushed for greater mental health resources and dialogue on campus.
In response to the silent protest at Bahen in March, U of T President Meric Gertler announced an action plan for better mental health support. The main goal of the task force is to review the current services available to students and try to improve them.
A National College Health Assessment survey from 2018 reports a three-to-four per cent increase in students who experience anxiety and depression compared to the reports from 2016.
The explanation for the rise in mental health issues is complex. Arguably, the internet has made it easier for individuals to teach themselves about emotional distress and how to label it.
A heavy course load is another problem worth acknowledging. With a timetable that leaves little to no time for hobbies, social interaction with friends, or catching up on a television series, it is natural for students to live with chronic stress and imbalanced emotions.
In his essay “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Jonathan Haidt, an American social psychologist, also gives a plausible explanation for the rise in mental health issues on campus. Haidt argues that there is an increased hypersensitivity to words and content that could potentially offend students. Being loyal to negativity and perceiving words and subject matter as emotional attacks solidifies the neuropathways in the brain that signal anger, sadness, and fear.
Let’s not forget the role that nutrition and exercise play in mental well-being.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick explains in her podcast, “Found My Fitness,” that chronic inflammation (over-activity of the immune system) is a major cause of depression. Inflammation is a consequence of poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, and social stress.
According to Patrick, systemic inflammation has a causal relation to depression.
Fitness is an old, but true, antidote to anxiety and depression. When exercising, the body releases endorphins which relieve stress and pain.
A clear head goes a long way.
It’s often said that students don’t have the luxury of a healthy diet while in university because affordable meals are not always the healthiest. But there are blogs, cookbooks, and YouTube videos dedicated to eating healthy on a budget—all you have to do is look it up.
You can also download an app on your phone called Flipp where you can search for any ingredient or product you need, and instantly browse through the most recent flyers for discounts.
A suicide on campus is not just the result of a lack of resources—the resources are there. Life circumstances, childhood trauma, and genetics also play a role in the risk of suicide.
This is not to say that resources on U of T campuses should not be improved. Improvement is always encouraged. But to blame a student’s suicide on U of T eliminates the biggest factor in improving mental health: personal responsibility.
Here at UTM, the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC) is located in the Davis building, room 1123A, around the corner from the bookstore. Social workers, nurses, and nutritional counsellors are available to you, but an appointment wait-time can take up to a month.
The HCC also provides group counselling, a program focused on overcoming social anxiety which is highly connected to depression on campus. But it is the student’s responsibility to attend these meetings.
Personal responsibility implies that improving your mood, confidence, and overall happiness starts with yourself.
Make an appointment at the HCC, and in the meantime, try dedicating at least one hour a week to exercise while reducing the amount of caffeine and sugar intake in your diet.
There are many small habits you can start practicing to better your overall mental health, and all these choices start with you.
One small gesture you can make to better improve your daily mental health is to wake up every morning and think of one thing to be grateful for, because gratitude is the foundation of a strong mind.