I was intrigued by the large amount of coverage of student mental health last week. But I want to raise matters that I feel have been overlooked.
First, it’s important to separate university students with chronic, pervasive mental health issues from those who are fine before the stresses of university set in. Bipolar disorder is an example of the former, and “I failed a test and couldn’t sleep for a week due to anxiety” the latter. While the student with bipolar disorder likely needs a lifelong relationship with healthcare, the student whose insomnia is set off by a bad grade needs something else: coping skills. I’m unconvinced that the challenges of university life are all that different from what we’ll have to face in the real world after graduation. In other words, confronting stress and anxiety on a daily basis is not a part of the student experience; it’s a part of the adult experience. That’s what we are—adults—and it involves stress, anxiety, and periods of unhappiness because adults have, to put it frankly, a lot of shit to deal with, and you no longer have people to deal with it for you. I say unhappiness and not depression, because, to be fair to those who suffer from chronic depression, and to paraphrase one doctor, if a cheque for $10,000 or a new relationship removes your blues, that’s not depression.
We’ll all face situations like not finding a job, not getting to live where we want, and realizing that our true loves aren’t the people we thought they were. And we’re likely to be prescribed something if we seek help. If we don’t start developing personal coping strategies for dealing with everyday adult stress, we’ll be absolutely screwed.
And the sad news is that there are so many of us in university who are faced with incredible mental and emotional stressors, which in turn affect our mental health, that the $27 million doled out by the Ontario government will simply not be enough to help every struggling student. Let’s hope that they at least get to the most severe cases before it’s too late. And it will not be enough because mental health is not a student issue, it’s a Canadian issue. As CAMH reports, “In any given year, one in five people in Ontario experiences a mental health or addiction problem.” So it shouldn’t be universities that provide the majority of mental health services, but local clinics and hospitals. And these services should be fully, not partially, covered by OHIP. In her letter to the editor last week, Ms. Ho talked about the difficulties of accessing mental health services, and that’s because our government doesn’t deem these services important enough to fully fund. Even the services that are covered have enormous wait times.
One of the ways we can help each other is by sharing our coping strategies. Please do, because I believe we’re still far, far away from the day when we can walk into UTM’s health clinic and say, “I’ve been having stress-related insomnia and I’d like to speak to someone today” without walking away disappointed.
Fourth-year UTM student