Reflections on Mental Health Week

Mental heath is a persistent issue at the University of Toronto.  This past week, as part of U of T’s Mental Wellness Month, ASSU hosted a Mental Health Week. Cupcakes, laughter yoga and free coffee – all of that good stuff. While our week consisted of de-stressing events, it’s important to remember that mental health is a systemic issue – not an individual one that will be corrected by telling students to take more breaks, or to relax more. When students have four midterms in a week, taking time out to attend a meditation session is not necessarily feasible.  Before our week began, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities announced $12 million dollars for mental health initiatives and services for universities.  This is a good start, however – it’s time we stop approaching mental health through service implementation perspective and look more broadly at what exacerbates these issues in the first place.

U of T is chronically underfunded and as provincial funding continues to drop, tuition fees continue to go up.  The yearly enrolment goes up, students are placed in larger class sizes and have less resources available to them. The educational experience becomes impersonal and out of touch for some and extra pressures are placed on the shoulders of students. Financial pressures, academic pressures as well as anxiety over one’s future all serve as stressors that can worsen an individual’s mental health.

ASSU Executive, Ariel Charney is involved in a group, Unite U of T – which seeks to address mental health concerns on this campus through the medium of creative expression. Students were invited to write their concerns and “how U of T made them feel” on a piece of paper and post it on a board. The results were telling, students overwhelmingly felt depressed, out of place, stressed, etc.  Since then, many creative solutions have come up to solve these problems and I encourage you to check them out here. But what is clear is that for things to change at the university, for pedagogical practices to advance , for us to get a truly high quality of education – our university must be adequately funded.  While providing funding for mental health initiatives is good, the Government of Ontario should know that they are merely treating the symptoms of a larger problem of chronic underfunding – a problem that the government has created and can easily rectify.

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