Email shouldn’t mean derailment

Queen’s needs to pay attention when students bring up concerns

Some students may find the tone or impersonal approach to email communication from Queen’s upsetting.
Some students may find the tone or impersonal approach to email communication from Queen’s upsetting.
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Supplied by Rachael Mostowy

Rachael Mostowy, ArtSci ’14

Queen’s made me cry.

Most of university and, to an extent, life can be described by fluids — blood, sweat, even coffee and alcohol — but this wasn’t “I cried for an hour because I got my essay back and the mark wasn’t what I expected.” Everyone’s been there; instead, it was “I couldn’t stop crying or even get out of bed because I couldn’t stop thinking about what a terrible person I am.” If you’re trying to create a community that is safe and supportive of students with mental health issues, this is something that shouldn’t be happening.

But when I applied for the Queen’s General Bursary last semester, it was exactly what happened.

Mental health issues can be extremely isolating — my experience with depression certainly was. I felt like it was my fault, that I just needed to get over it, so all the problems caused by my depression were also my fault and I didn’t think I deserved help.

Applying for the General Bursary was really scary, but I applied because the thought of living off instant noodles was also scary. I told myself that there was no harm in asking, but it turns out there was.

My application was put on hold and I was notified of this by an automated email message.

The message said: “Queen’s bursary assistance is directed to assist those students in the greatest financial difficulty and is intended to help supplement, not replace, funds available through Government Student Financial Assistance and/or a Student Line of Credit. Your application indicates that you have either not applied for Government Student Financial Assistance or that you are receiving a minimal amount of assistance.”

What I heard was, “this is your fault.” What I heard was, “it’s not our problem.” I panicked. I felt terrible for trying to take money away from some poor ramen-eating student and I felt desperate because I did have student loans and a line of credit, but it wasn’t enough.

I didn’t realize why the email had upset me so much until I stopped crying and started thinking. Once I did, I sent a reply to Student Awards explaining my situation, but also how upset the wording of the email had made me and why.

I got a response extremely quickly and, to be fair, it was my fault for not providing my Student Loan documentation in the first place. Turns out that was the problem and I appreciated that they were helping me to fix it. But that was it. There was no acknowledgement that, however unintentionally, I had been upset by it.

I know that this is not Queen’s fault. This is depression’s fault, but the thing about depression is that when you feel terrible all the time, the little things don’t make you feel bad, they make you feel worse. A lot worse. This was essentially a miscommunication but what it felt like was a confirmation of all the bad things I already thought about myself.

I’m worried because if you’re scared and everything is falling apart and you ask for help, support and understanding, something like this is the worst that can happen: you feel like you were wrong for reaching out.

Queen’s has made, and is making, significant efforts to support students struggling with mental health issues, like increasing access to health care professionals. There have been several campus initiatives, like The Jack Project, that aim to combat the stigma attached to mental health issues.

I feel, however, there are other things that make just as big of a difference. Instead of trying to pick me up, help me not fall in the first place. I don’t always need accommodation, though others might, but what I do need is to feel safe enough to be able to ask for it and to be heard.

There was a recent campus initiative that allowed student to write their thoughts and concerns about mental health at Queen’s on a board. I don’t know the details because I was busy trying to be okay with myself. I didn’t write on the board, but if I had, I would have written “please, just listen.”

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