Last week, Canada, as a nation, came together to discuss mental health through the fifth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. It raised a record breaking 6.1 million dollars for mental health research. Through Twitter, Facebook, word of mouth and even Yik Yak, Western, too, actively added to the conversation. A promising message of support was universally dispersed through every 140 character tweet and Facebook share, and it was truly heart warming to see how many people spoke up. However, the conversation can’t end there.
Attending university is a very stressful experience. Not only do we, as students, move away from our family, often for the first time, we are quickly exposed to a variety of new and challenging experiences and decisions. University is filled with paper deadlines, exams and continuous pressure to succeed, and all of this is piled on at once. As students, we need to consciously prioritize our mental health, but to do that we have to understand what it is we mean when we say that. According to the World Health Organization, Mental Health refers to “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. I would further this definition by defining that as the definition of positive mental health, as it exists on a continuum, along with varying degrees of mental illness.
What this means is that every person’s experience with mental health is different. Everyone has varying encounters with mental illness symptoms and people experience mental health at different levels as well. When we talk about mental health and illness, we often group all mental illness and experiences together as if they are the same. No experience is the same, and as a community we have to consciously work to understand how to approach issues with mental health and mental illness in ourselves and our friends.
Often, when we talk about our health, especially as students, we often focus on things such as our weight, our personal bests, and our diet and forget to keep up the discussion about our mental health. According to a study out of British Columbia, 1 in 5 young people in Canada live with mental disorders. 1 in 5. This is not a small issue. It is a huge one, that is affecting so many of us, and many of us are doing this struggle alone.
So how do we help? As students, we usually can’t donate large sums to fund research, although some of us do actively work in the fields, and most of us aren’t trained in Mental Health First Aid (Although I’d highly encourage it!). What we can do is start the conversation. I don’t just mean tweeting and posting about it past Bell Let’s Talk Day, although that helps. I mean openly discussing it with each other. We need to make it acceptable for two friends to talk about how they “aren’t feeling okay today”. We need to make it just as socially acceptable to talk about our mental health as it is to talk about a cold or a muscle strain. We also need to make sure we listen. The single best way you can support a friend who may be struggling is by listening to them. They don’t necessarily need you to understand their feelings, all they need is that you are going to try, and be there to support them through a very confusing and frustrating time in their lives.
If you’d like more information on mental health resources, come check out the Peer Support Centre in room 256 of the UCC. You can also find information on campus resources here: http://www.health.uwo.ca/mental_health/ . Plus, if you or someone you know needs to talk to someone after hours there is a free, confidential and anonymous helpline for post-secondary students in Ontario called Good2Talk. You can access this by calling: 1-866-925-5454.