Tuesday, June 28, 2022
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Opinion: Mental health services at Queen’s needs to change


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in my room, extremely anxious and overwhelmed with life. I was having trouble breathing; my head felt like it was about to explode, and my chest felt like it was being weighed down by bricks. The past couple of weeks, I had lost motivation to attend most of my classes and began self-destructive behaviors. I was not sleeping or eating well.

I had dealt with anxiety and depression for over 5 years. I had interacted with psychiatrists, therapists, and social workers back in my hometown, but I lost contact with them after going to university. I felt like I was at risk of harming myself, and I decided that I needed to get immediate support. I opened my laptop and searched for resources that Queen’s had to offer, including crisis lines, appointment booking details, and an online therapy assistance tool. I was determined to find help. After calling three different crisis lines, I was hung up on, sent to an automated message, and told that I would be emailed to book an appointment in a couple of days to book an appointment. Next, I tried the therapy assistance tool. What I found were generalized articles and self-guided videos on topics like feeling burnt out, stress and sleep. I pressed play and immediately felt discouraged; there was nothing on this website to help me at the moment. So I went to the Student Wellness Services webpage, the central hub for mental health support that Queen’s offers. I booked an appointment with my existing accessibility advisor and the Student Academic Support Services, which was in the next couple of days. I went to bed that night without the support I needed but was hopeful that these appointments would help me get my life back on track.

In the next couple of days, I got a call from my accessibility advisor while I was working. I told her that I was not doing well and I wanted to know more about long-term therapy options. She gave me what sounded like a scripted response: “Have you been on the Student Wellness Services website? There are many resources and appointments that you can book for this. Queen’s does not offer long-term mental health support but we have partnerships with psychiatrists in the Kingston community. You can check the website for more information.” I felt extremely discouraged. I made the effort and had the courage to reach out and in response, I received a “one size fits all” message. She never connected me with any psychiatrists or made sure I had a plan of action. At the end of the call, she asked me if I was at risk of harming myself. Everybody who has had experience with the mental health system knows that the answer to this is always “no”, even if it is yes. Nobody wants to get sent to a mental psych ward or get the cops called on them. That’s not what helps. So, I responded with “no” and as expected, I was not offered support because it was not seen as critically needed. After hanging up, I felt a heavier weight drop in my stomach. What do I do now?

There was still the appointment with an academic advisor who I hoped would help me manage my assignments and work schedule in order to catch up on missed classes. Wrong. I couldn’t get out of bed in time for my appointment (because of poor sleep habits, because of my depression) and ended up missing it. I didn’t receive a follow-up from anyone after that. 

There are not enough words to describe how I felt when I realized that even when someone has the courage to go out and ask for help, the appropriate help is not offered. This experience was frustrating, disheartening, and just pathetic.

75% of mental health problems appear before the age of 25, usually between 18 and 24.

46% of post-secondary students reported feeling too depressed to function in 2016.

65% of post-secondary students reported overwhelming anxiety in 2016.

In 2019, almost 70% of students in Canada experienced feelings of hopelessness.

In the same study, over 16% of students seriously considered suicide.

There is a mental health CRISIS among university students in Canada. The foundation of mental health services and resources offered at Queen’s University is inadequate and needs to be changed. It is not the time to focus on being reactive but proactive. Let’s not wait until someone is calling a suicide prevention line to help them. It’s not enough. Students need to be supported now. There needs to be more training for workers at the Student Wellness Services so that they can learn how to approach each student’s situation uniquely and effectively. There needs to be regular access to trained professionals with check-ins to ensure that students are being properly supported throughout their studies. There needs to be more funding to accommodate for the increase in students that need mental health support.

I have so much more to say and I’m sure you do too. Let me hear your story. Let me hear your ideas. Something needs to change and I’m determined to make it happen.

Google Form Link: https://forms.gle/bqCV9FJe1ocp817n6

Thank you!

Kind regards,

Carmen Yeung

Carmen Yeung is a first-year commerce student at Queen’s University.

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