The silent struggle on campus

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Graphic by Lea Clarin

Loneliness, hopelessness, and anxiety. These are just a few of the feelings that can prey on the average Canadian university student. Why is it that we find ourselves time and again at crossroads in discussing mental health?

The lack of a feeling of community throughout our campus is deafening. As much as I would like to, I don’t feel school spirit as I walk through the corridors of the Student Life Center. Once a year, a diversity festival like Cultural Caravan manages to light it up, but that’s about it. The onus falls on the student to stand up and make a connection, although, this only gets harder when you are feeling down and alone.

Most students come here without a support system, leaving the comforts of a family behind. They tend to start over fresh from their high school experience. When the crippling workload of their academic life takes over, most of them face issues managing their academic life and social life. They may reach out to counselling services which in turn provide you with a phone number to contact Good2Talk, and a month long wait for an appointment. Counselors are helpful, but are stretched way too thin. It is unlikely for a student to get the help they require when they need it.

Far too often, students find themselves asking if life is all about the fear of failing. I would often motivate myself to continue studying late at night by fearing failure. Getting low marks in an exam is no longer a trivial thing for a lot of us. A failure in an engineering course could hold you back a year. A year can isolate you from your existing social life and add more debt to your student accounts. Since most of the students at the University of Waterloo have been very successful in high school, it is easy to get lost amongst equally high-achieving faces. Students begin to question their identity and start determining their self worth based on the number of interviews they receive or the marks they get.

Having dreams is a way to move forward but letting your mental health depend on clinching that California job is not the way to go. I understand the determination in people to work hard and be the best they can be. However, sitting in a corner and feeling dejected as you scroll through Facebook and see everyone around you get awesome jobs in the first round is certainly not healthy for your mind.

It could be argued that back in the day, if someone felt bad or upset, they let the feeling be and continued with their day. With our generation, we get bombarded by the happy and smiling faces of people who are apparently doing well on every social media site. These feelings make us feel like we are  alone and small in the sea of successful people. Being in a school with weak community spirit also doesn’t help matters much.

Organising a march around the campus for mental health was a good way for students to let their anger out and feel united in their struggles. I think having continued group discussions with interested students in prominent areas of campus would be a good way for faculty to understand where the students are coming from. Bridging the gaps between different faculties should be a point of interest. A lot of cross faculty socializing spots need to be set up. Talking about struggles helps us bridge the gap between our internal battles and the façade we maintain. Instead of building another new building, University of Waterloo should meditate its resources in increasing the resources and staff available at counselling services, and building a community which can act as a safety net for a University of Waterloo student.

Nikhar Dhingra

2B Management Engineering

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