Well, Let’s Talk.
Mental health matters. Mental health is health. It’s ok to not be ok.
These are some statements we use often in the effort to end the stigma around mental illness. These are statements we will hear even more during #BellLetsTalk, a day where people are encouraged to re-share the popular hashtag to raise money and awareness for mental health. There is plenty of discussion over the efficacy of a corporation like Bell Canada weighing in on mental healthcare, but that is a conversation for another time. One thing I can say is that social media movements have opened up the conversation surrounding mental wellness in the most significant way I have experienced in my lifetime. And I am likely older than most of you reading this, so that has to give me some street in the world of wisdom? Right?!
Those statements are correct though; mental health is health, and it does matter greatly. Whatever the type: depression, anxiety, psychotic or personality disorders just to name a few; mental illnesses are valid and important to acknowledge and accommodate. Stigma weighs even more on our mental health and can prevent people from seeking the support they need.
I find myself wanting to focus on the physical reasons I have for accommodation instead of the mental ones, because they are more socially acceptable reasons for accommodation.
Despite the multitude of inspirational quotes, memes and merchandise proclaiming that people care about mental health, the much-needed changes in views and practices in our society often feel slow. There have been improvements; people talk more openly about mental illness than they used to, and there are more accommodations being made for mental health reasons than ever before. Unfortunately, the stigma remains for many of us, whether internally or externally.
Take myself for example. I typically consider myself an advocate for de-stigmatizing mental illness and struggles, yet I still find myself struggling with some deep-seated negative thoughts about it. I am a student who accesses Student Accessibility Services (SAS) and each term when I see the accommodation letters being sent to professors on my behalf, I find myself rather uncomfortable. Anxiety ensues and layers of internalized stigma arise. It takes me some time to gather myself and contact each professor individually to discuss the possible situations that may need accommodation. Despite my transparency about my own struggles, and my perceived efforts to advocate for others, I still find internal concern about how these requests will be received. I find myself wanting to focus on the physical reasons I have for accommodation instead of the mental ones, because they are more socially acceptable reasons for accommodation.
This is stigma in action. But know that the last thing we need to do is shame ourselves, thus creating more mental struggle. I’m trying to remind myself that accommodations are not short cuts or getting an easy way out. Instead, they are adjustments to make a world that was made a specific type of mind and body also work for people with a different type of mind or body. In fact, the goal of accommodation is to remove the barriers that prevent individuals from having equal access to services, like education. Accommodations support people with overcoming obstacles, therefore allowing everyone to participate in education (or other).
I have an anxiety disorder and ADHD, as well as physical illness that further complicates things. When I started school, I promised myself I would keep my mental wellbeing at the forefront. Though some of this is to be expected, my past experiences have made me aware of the dangers of overdoing it. Yet I found myself focusing on grades, something I hadn’t considered when I decided to do this. It had been many years since I was in high school. Suddenly I was doing well in university and this tangible prize for my work (the mark) was addicting. Apparently, perfection is a hell of a drug. However, it is not worth risking one’s mental or physical wellbeing. Figuring out how to do both my best and prioritize my wellbeing is not easy though.
I share all of this with you because I tend to overshare, yes. But more so, to remind you you’re not alone. When I’ve been at my darkest, those stories helped me find hope to keep going. This year I have been in classes with some of the most amazing people and I have been so inspired. Not because of their perfect punctuation or their high grades; but for their unique perspectives, their imagination, their courage to jump into this wild journey.
There’s no right way of finding mental wellbeing but please know that yours matters. You matter and belong here. Anything you need to do to make that happen is valid
When school gets to you, remember that growing these parts of yourself is as important as your GPA…maybe even more so. Remember that you need to look after your mental wellbeing in order to nurture those creative aspects. Setting intentions outside of grade points is one way I do this. Goals that are for you, which don’t rely on someone else grading you, or how good your punctuation is (unless that’s your goal). A few of mine are increasing sleep, moving my body more, saying no to perfectionism (whoa), and creating better boundaries so I have more of that “life” in the idea of work/life balance (aka not always working on something).
What about you? It could be like me with getting more sleep, or maybe it’s watching a movie every week because that makes you happy, baking cookies, or creating art. Perhaps it’s showering, going to therapy for the first time, or getting outside for 5 minutes daily. Maybe it’s just to get to class on time (another of mine) or maybe it’s withdrawing from a class that is not working for you. When it’s really tough, maybe it’s just getting through the day.
What you need won’t be the same as what anyone else needs and that’s ok. There’s no right way of finding mental wellbeing but please know that yours matters. You matter and belong here. Anything you need to do to make that happen is valid.
NOTE: For anyone struggling with mental health, you are not alone. I know from experience it is not easy to access support always but know that it is important to talk to someone. As a student you get access to personal counselling on campus. Check out https://www.brandonu.ca/personal-counselling for a list of resources available.
About the Author
Erin Garden is a second-year student at Brandon University, where she is pursuing a degree in sociology. Her other academic interests include religion, literature/writing, and gender studies. Erin advocates for mental health and disability awareness through her photography and writing. Through all her endeavours, she aims to end stigmas associated with disabilities, mental illness, and vulnerable communities.