Letter: Achieving positive mental health — are we there yet?

Nowadays, the topic of mental health is popular and very much talked about in the media and community. We may have read many articles and watched news which featured related challenges facing those who are socially and emotionally vulnerable. It is easy to come across such tweets at a tap of our fingertips.

At UBC, we have Thrive Week to pride ourselves in for making progress towards addressing the need for building positive mental health on campus. The publicity and creation of awareness is there, no doubt. However, it remains a wonder whether those are the ultimate goals envisioned — merely invoking a positive impression and raising awareness within a localized community. Do we stop at this explicit target without going further beyond a week long of activities and conversations or is Thrive meant to have an implicit long-term goal in mind that is ensuring every single student achieve a positive balance of their mental state of health?

If Thrive is meant to have a lasting impact that reaches deep into the routine of university life, why do we still get long waitlists of students for counselling appointments and who might be denied quick access to psychiatric care when they really need it? At times, it seems that universities do their best in decreasing the sensitive nature of students' mental health issues by creating events like Thrive Week but that is just about all what they could achieve. Instead of offering students their needed individualized attention in regards to aspects of stressful coursework demands that are taking a toll on their health and wellbeing, the institution tends to generalize the diversity of each person's problems without addressing their core.

Pondering over a letter which talks about how a university student counsellor was not effective in offering options of solution a student hoped for, I think it just shows the lack of familiarity and empathy of counsellors with situations faced by students that the former are not well-trained to provide. Added to that, it may just imply that counsellors are not keen on actively working out with students to brainstorm strategies of solution. Perhaps, counsellors and students have their own degree of passivity and effective communication can be compromised as a result. Nevertheless, counsellors should be understanding about the difficult position students are in and efforts must be made in reaching out to them who may harbour doubts in the validity of their attempt to reach out for formal help in the first place.

Will the conversations started during Thrive Week ever make their way into the conversations going on within lecture halls? Based on my experience, I have hardly heard professors casually bringing up the topic of mental health halfway during their lectures. I wonder if we could ask the question of whether the university faculty's perspectives of students' mental and emotional wellbeing align with the personal perspectives of the students themselves. Could there be a gap in communication and empathic understanding between university instructors and the students whom they teach? No doubt, university life must have been more harsh decades ago and what was fitting and manageable for previous generations of university students (now present professors) may no longer apply to us. Thus, in addition to questioning students who make up only one end of the balance scale, perhaps we should look at the practicality of course load demands instructors place on students.

Shall we work on addressing the negative effects of a stressful university life before promoting the positives? Success becomes more attainable when we acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations instead of just glorifying our strengths. A globally-recognized institution like UBC loves more than anything to pride itself on the tradition of excellence in research, teaching and learning. Yet, behind the curtains of the stage performance of a world-class reputation, there are many students in need of a caring counsellor's listening ear to help deal with their personal mental health issues in order to meet the high academic standards that are set. Such expectations are already a great force of a burden themselves and real. Campaigns of raising mental health awareness can be tempted to focus on achieving the bright and positive side but can they sustain students in the long run? Sometimes, excellence and effort need to take a break and give up the limelight. We may be thriving and succeeding on the outside but we also need engaging support to cope with and manage the tipping points of our lives.

Rowena Kong is a fourth year student, studying psychology.