Letter: The Tipping Point addresses UBC's treatment of mental health

In less than a week, over 1,000 people have liked Ji Youn Kim’s Facebook page, The Tipping Point. This Facebook page is dedicated to bringing awareness to the increase of mental health problems in universities. In April 2016, Kim shared her story on dropping out of university due to mental illness. Kim’s story was also reported on by the Daily Hive. Meanwhile, former and current UBC students are sharing their struggles with mental health. These events led to The Tipping Point and Kim’s goal is to push post-secondary institutions to actively address this growing concern.

If over 1,000 current and former students resonate with the mental health problems faced at university, what is UBC doing to address this growing concern? UBC’s student service suggests that students in distress see a counsellor for support. However, many UBC students have reported that their mental health problems were treated with skepticism and shaming rather than support and accommodation. As an anonymous UBC student shared their experience with a UBC counsellor:

“I can’t focus because of my anxiety and the compulsive behaviour that follows it. I’ve been feeling lethargic and defeated all semester, and I’ve been having a lot of trouble going to class. I told [the counsellor] that I didn’t want academic concession and extensions; I just wanted to deal with my mental health so I could complete this semester successfully. I explained all this to him and he basically said to me, ‘Well I don’t know how to help you because you are behind on school because you don’t want to go to class. I’m reluctant to even give you concession because you are missing class for no reason.’ I managed to hold my tears in until I left. I thought counselling was supposed to make you feel better — I left there feeling like absolute shit and more hopeless than ever. ” From the UBC Confession on Facebook   

Counselling and therapy are very important aspects in helping students with mental health issues, but the problem is that UBC’s suggestion for mental health is focused on the individual responsibility rather than understanding how the university culture might be hurting students. The effort, time and stigma that come with seeking counselling are extra stressors and worries for many students, especially the ones who are already struggling to get out of bed.

There are structural issues that are contributing to the increase of mental health problems. Increasing student tuition, growing pressure to compete in academia and the feeling of hopelessness and isolation are results of a profit-driven university industry.

If students are paying nonsensical tuition in order to learn and gain credentials, UBC needs to start reevaluating:

  • The current course design based on disengaged and passive learning
  • The exam policy that penalizes students who are ill
  • The punishment-based model (e.g. academic probation, failing grade) for students who are struggling in university

Kim is taking proactive steps in addressing the stigma and shame that comes with talking about mental health, and also highlighting the dangerous university culture that perpetuates shame against students who are forced to drop out.

Kim wants to talk about mental health, potential solutions and other ideas to address the growing mental health problems on university campuses. For more information, please visit The Tipping Point Facebook page.

Emily Truong-Cheung is a PhD student studying sociology.