Why we need to shape policy in the direction of prevention strategies for mental health
Iulia Dragos OPINIONS EDITOR
In light of the tragic passing at Bahen Centre, there have been silent protests to challenge the University of Toronto’s (U of T) disappointing and abysmal initiatives toward mental health programs. This article is difficult to write because it goes to show that despite the proliferation of people speaking out about this issue, there is never enough awareness that can be drawn to the topic of mental health. Students rallied against the Mandatory Leave of Absence policy, as well as for better counselling services that include shorter wait times. In the competitive environment that dignifies U of T, mental health services across campuses should be equally ambitious. Currently, they are not.
While U of T has resources, such as free counselling in place for students to reach out to, clearly this is not enough. As many have protested, the waitlists just to see someone seem to stretch on as long as the line at the campus bookstores during the first week of school. The University of Toronto needs to work toward not just coping mechanisms or quick fix problems. I propose to instead call on the university to work on preventive strategies instead of short-term solutions — if the latter can even be called that. These include perhaps making professors and other admin staff undergo training on mental health, as well as implementing classroom policies that keep mental health a priority.
Another strategy to consider is providing students with more resources in order to better confront the stresses and anxieties that they undergo in their day-to-day lives that would otherwise prevent them from balancing thriving academically, mentally, and emotionally. These ideas need to come from having an open and collaborative discussion with students themselves. The right idea was had when students at the silent protest voiced that resources need to be more accessible for when people are feeling at their lowest, since the last thing they are capable of doing is researching what sort of resources are available on campus. This is yet another barrier to help-seeking, a close one behind the stigmatization around mental health.
Despite a lot of work being done to tear down the stigma, we need to do better. I myself don’t have all the answers but a good place to start is to start placing more of an emphasis on looking inwardly when it comes to symptoms of illness. This means recognizing the fact that we shouldn’t wait until things get worse before someone reaches out for help. Looking inwardly means also acknowledging that signs of stress and distress do not always manifest outwardly nor do they do so in the same ways. With this in mind, the focus should be on helping students to prevent them from getting to that point of pressure in the first place.
It is true that university should prepare us for how life is out in the career field, and that also refers to what the pressure is going to be like as well. However, it shouldn’t break and burn out its students before they even get there. We are one of the best universities in the world — surely, we can put our heads together to find a way to maintain the quality of our academic reputation, without that being at the expense of the mental health of its students. We need to change the culture of our academic environment if we wish to see any progress.