In light of the Not Myself Today campaign launching early next month (April 2nd) that prompts the need for increased mental health support in workplaces and companies, I thought I would share the student perspective of things.

If an employee is to his or her job, then a student is to his or her education. The school (elementary, secondary, post-secondary) is the forefront battleground for the first two decades of any youth’s life. This is where we learn to read and write, to have critical discussions about different topics of the world, and to receive the education that will propel us into a lasting career when we grow up.

And, boy, do we need to grow up fast.

The school has become an increasingly stressful “work” place for students. It’s no wonder that a 2012 article from Maclean’s refers university students as the #brokengeneration. Academic proficiency has always, and for the conceivable future, the forefront of what makes a good student (debatable, but not for this topic being discussed here). Students that may strive for post-secondary education are no longer seeing the merit of just finishing 4-5 years of education beyond high school. University and colleges have become the stepping stone to even more education. And, in this vicious cycle, this means sapping students of most of their cognitive resources to stand out and do well in an environment that pushes and grinds and refuses to budge more often than not.

This may be attributed to the Flynn effect as we see students seemingly become smarter and smarter with the start of each generation, but the mental health and well-being of students have also become a detrimental problem that remains unresolved. More and more students are seeking services to cope with depression, anxiety, and stress. A 2013 report by the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) surveyed a large number of Canadian post-secondary students on various health concerns, including mental health. The statistics, when generalized, paint a harsh reality facing students on a regular basis. Here are some of the more noticeable numbers:

  • 89.3% of students feel overwhelmed by all they have to do (with 93.5% of the female students surveyed agreeing)
  • 68.5% of students have felt very sad in the last 12 months, and 37.5% have felt so depressed that it was difficult to function
  • Anxiety (12.3%) and Depression (10%) leads the list of a multitude of different professionally diagnosed illnesses
  • Academics, Career-related issues, Finances, and Family problems are the most traumatic and difficult to handle

Unfortunately, the last statistic rings true for most post-secondary students. With the challenges of the university and college settings, students are finding it increasingly difficult to not get lost in the academic rigour. The need for success is no longer motivated by personal achievement, but for the continuity of sustaining a foreseeable career that will be stable and provide income for both themselves and for their family. Yet, in this day and age, where a Bachelors degree is almost irrelevant, it is hard-pressed for students not to pursue further education and commit even more time and mental resources to achieving these goals.

What comes of it, unfortunately, is the alarming rise of mental illnesses occurring in the student population, something that does not show a sign of peaking.

This issue is gaining a voice and being heard, albeit with a steep price (check out the article from Maclean’s provided above). We ARE affected by mental health issues, whether it is in the actual workplace or at school. And the misunderstandings that surround such problems become a barrier that employees and students both face. Such preconceived notions must be snipped at its bud. Luckily with more and more acknowledgement of its severity, there has been a positive push to focus on this issue at large. For example, the University of Toronto Scarborough has recently created a collaborative initiative called Flourish that builds on individual strengths and allows students to grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally throughout their academic and personal development. As well, groundbreaking research from McMaster University is conducting the first-ever research in Canada on the role that school plays in the mental health of students, teachers, and principals.

Needless to say, programs like Flourish, ongoing mental health-related research, and campaigns like Not Myself Today are fighting for mental health and well-being to be taken seriously and given full support, in the workplace and in the school environment.

So maybe next time, if a student tells you that “I’m Not Myself Today,” it’s worth hearing why.

In the workplace or at school, please pause when someone tells you that they are not themselves today.

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