Queen’s faces of mental illness: Time to talk

As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Lifestyle is featuring personal stories from Queen’s students each day from Oct. 6-10. We’ll be continuing the initiative throughout the year with monthly stories. If you’re interested in submitting a story, please email journal_lifestyle@ams.queensu.ca.

When writing this article, I was posed with the question: “What does mental health awareness mean to you?”

Though it’s difficult to properly qualify an accurate response to this question, I’ll attempt to illustrate what it means to me and to many others at Queen’s.

Let’s go back to high school, for a moment. I was the person amongst my group of friends who, for the most part, was perceived to have everything together.

I became someone who my friends became very comfortable talking to about their issues, even though I would never talk to anyone about what I would come to understand was a pretty significant personal ordeal.

People thought I had the perfect life and was thus someone they could always confide to. This was something I wore as a badge of honour.

It was a great source of pride and something that I took with me to university. When I got to Queen’s, I continued to be involved outside of the classroom. While my involvement got more and more intense, so did my personal issues. Not even the people closest to me knew what was going on inside me.

I don’t feel it’s important to go into the nitty-gritty details here, but I did reach my tipping point. I had to drop a class and I started attending counselling sessions at HCDS on a regular basis.

The years I had spent keeping up with the belief that I had everything together had taken me to the point where I couldn’t concentrate on fundamental day-to-day tasks.

Homework fell by the wayside, assignments didn’t get handed in and I went a span of three months where I went to sleep before 5 a.m. a total of four times.

I needed help and I needed it right away.

I was and am very lucky for a number of different reasons. My issues never manifested in suicidal thoughts. I never felt worthless. I never felt like I didn’t want to exist anymore.

I just felt overwhelmed and like a shadow of my old self.

I was especially lucky that I’m not generally a very shy person. I felt comfortable to reach out for help when I needed it. It wasn’t a hesitation or a tough decision — it was merely what had to be done.

It changed my life. I got back on my feet, maintained involvement in things I was passionate about and found myself in a better place than I’ve ever been in before.

So what does mental health awareness mean to me? What I’ve shared with you is an incomplete version of a complicated and twisted engagement with life that had ill-effects on my mental health. I don’t think this is an uncommon story.

For me, mental health awareness means the saving of degrees, relationships and lives.

It means knowing that we all have mental health. It’s knowing that it’s as important to keep a healthy mind as it is to keep a healthy heart.

It means having people know that it’s okay to not be okay.

Queen’s, by all or most accounts, is the national leader when it comes to mental health resources, support and awareness. From the Peer Support Centre to the Mental Health Awareness Committee, from embedded faculty counsellors and student-driven movements like “Unleash the Noise” through Jack.org, to Dr. Mike Condra and his team at HCDS, Queen’s is ahead of the game in many respects.

That being said, we still have a large hill to climb. We must not be complacent.

As more and more students come to Queen’s over the coming years, the infrastructure we have to support Queen’s students and their mental health will be put to the test.

AMS Assembly recently passed a list of recommendations that students would like to see as a result of shared services budgeting.

Within these recommendations, making students the primary point of consultation when it comes to revamping HCDS is a priority. This is of paramount importance.

So what does mental health awareness mean to me?

I might not be able to pin it down with a sentence, but I know it’s bigger than me or you — bigger than our school.

We have the opportunity at Queen’s to bring other institutions with us into an age of commitment to combating stigma and supporting student health and wellness.

Silence isn’t an option.

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