Op-ed: Let us be unapologetic about our mental health

I’ve been pretty unapologetically open about my mental health, probably to the extent that it’s made some people feel uncomfortable. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. In that short period of time, I’ve been to four psychologists, seven physicians and one psychiatrist. I haven’t been waiting for a cure to come to me, but I have been proactive in using every last shred of energy I have in search of one.

I’ve found prescription drugs to be an exceptionally useful way to medicate and deal with my disorders. Unfortunately, there remains a stigma with the use of antidepressants and a misconception that this is an “easy way out” for those not willing to put in the effort to heal themselves with therapy. Let me be clear — therapy is not the only answer for everyone and there is absolutely nothing easy about finding the right prescription.

Zoloft. Ativan. Celexa. Cipralex. Effexor. Modafinil. I’ve tried them all. I’ve used different combinations. I’ve tinkered with dosages. I’ve tried taking at night and in the morning. I’ve gained weight. I've lost my appetite. I’ve slept through an entire day of classes. I’ve been so restless that I can’t get more than an hour of sleep. I’ve been so nauseous that I've called in sick to work for weeks in a row. I’ve felt more hopeless than ever before.

That doesn’t mean I won’t keep going back and trying to fix what’s not working. There’s no catch-all cure for your mental health. You’ve got to put in the work to find what works for you. Unfortunately, UBC doesn’t make this easy with its limited access to physicians, psychiatrists and counselling services.

When I’ve had awful side effects with my medication, I’ve been stuck booking the next available appointment many weeks away at Student Health Services. When I run out of medication because I was too depressed to get to a refill appointment, I’ve had to re-explain and justify all of my symptoms to a walk-in clinic doctor who suggested “maybe I should just try exercising more.”

I've been told that I'm “lucky” that I only had a month wait to see a psychiatrist when I was placed on the waitlist with “semi-urgent” priority. These waitlists have affected myself, my friends and deterred people from seeking the medical help they require. Even still, Student Health Services is by far not the worst offender.

When I first was looking to get set-up with therapy in Vancouver, an AMS student services employee presented me with two options. UBC Counselling Services could fix me to the point that I could go to class or an external therapist could fix me to the point where I could live my life. It was a no-brainer to choose the latter, but not everyone can afford the luxury of $150/hr industry standard counselling appointments.

The AMS Health Care plan affords $300/year in counselling coverage. That’ll get you around two appointments with a professional per year. Alternatively, you can skip the months-long waitlists and wait until you’re in immediate danger of harming yourself to see a UBC counsellor on the day of for free. Your choice.

Mental health poses an interesting discussion of equity at the university. You can bet that I won't stop talking about it until something is done.

Julia Burnham is a Ubyssey staff member and a third-year UBC student studying international relations and Canadian studies.