Throughout the next few weeks, McMaster will be posting stories shared by students surrounding the topic of mental health. 1 in 5 Canadians have a mental illness, but 5 in 5 have mental health – let’s talk about that.

McMaster Students

“Please do not procrastinate getting help. Unfortunately, many of us struggle with mental health issues. Every. Single. Day. We can’t escape it, no matter how hard we try. We only learn to manage it, and cope with it and in far too many cases, we neglect to get help. Growing up for me was a struggle. I lived in the outskirts of an extremely small town on a farm, on a dirt road, with maybe 10 houses that was a couple km long. I guess you could say I lived in a “hick” part of Ontario where everyone around me wore camo and cowboy boots. I was very different compared to other people. And in a school with only roughly 300-400 kids, I found it extremely difficult to fit in and find “my people.” In high school was around the time I developed my symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and would later find out they were also symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. I would go from being excited about something, to having a panic attack in the middle of the hall, to crying over the idea that once I left high school I wouldn’t know what to do because I wouldn’t have my parents around to take care of me and I had to start… adulting. 

I didn’t know what to do, how to reach out for help, but I knew I had to in order to get past all of these racing thoughts and overwhelming feelings, but I didn’t. Fast forward 5 years and instead of living on that farm 45 minutes outside of Ottawa, I live in the city of Hamilton going to a school with more kids around than there were in all the high schools in my school board. My first year wasn’t one I’m proud of. My anxiety was more awful than it had ever been before. I was asked “why don’t you reach out for help?” several times, and every time my answer was “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, or take time from those who need more help than I do.” So again, I made the mistake I did in high school of suppressing my thoughts and my feelings except this time they all came out from under the surface with the result of me being in the hospital for a week due to an overdose. Now, I look back at what happened last year and I am so thankful I am still alive to share this with all of you. I’ve joined groups for those with mental health issues, and I’ve realized that I’m not alone. I realize now that there are thousands of students in this school and millions around the world that struggle with the same things I do every single day. My point in telling you all this is that we all hit rock bottom. Unfortunately we hit rock bottom because we neglect to reach out for help. We feel as though we are alone in this when in reality, we aren’t. So please, if you are struggling with a mental health issue, reach out. Talk to someone. Call the peer support line. Call a suicide hotline. Anything. Just PLEASE reach out. The emotions that you are feeling are 110% valid, and they should not be ignored. By reaching out, you will not be wasting anyone’s time and no one’s problems are bigger than yours. Please don’t make the mistake I did by not reaching out in time. Too many lives are lost due to a suicide that could have been prevented. You are all strong individuals with a long life ahead of you and I can promise you that you are not alone.” 

– Marien Middleton, McMaster Student

“The first thing to remember, that I find a lot of people forget about, is that the brain is an organ. Just like any other organ, it can malfunction sometimes and it’s completely normal for that to happen. Furthermore, just like any other organ, any issues with the brain can be treated. When paired with proper treatment, healthy living is essential in ensuring good mental health.

It sounds cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason. Eat at least 2 meals a day, even if you don’t finish them and drink a lot of fluids. Push your boundaries a little bit and go out with friends, just be careful to pay attention to your limits so you don’t exhaust yourself. 

The most important thing out of all of this though is to talk about it. A strong network of friends and family that you can trust is essential in promoting good mental health. While healthy living won’t always completely treat any mental health issues you’re having, when you combine self-care with other treatments you may be receiving, your treatments will be infinitely more effective than if you don’t.” 

– Johnny, McMaster Student

Mental illness is often a deeply personal and emotional experience and it can be really difficult to be vulnerable in front of people when talking about these problems. It can also feel like a very daunting task to talk about mental illness because it often proceeds years of challenging experiences, and people frequently feel like they need to explain all these preceding events in order to talk about their current feelings. If the world became more open to talking about current states of mind and the feelings of the here-and-now, it may become easier to talk about mental illness. All it takes is someone who is willing to genuinely ask without judgement how someone is feeling today for the conversation to open up and potentially help someone feel supported.

Camille, McMaster Student

“I think it can be difficult for people to talk about mental health problems because there seems to be a perception among many students that having mental health issues and being successful are mutually exclusive. It can be hard to admit to each other that we’re struggling because we first need to admit it to ourselves; and there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be struggling with mental health. An important thing I learned coming into University is that mental health isn’t black and white, and that if it begins to effect your daily life I think it’s important to acknowledge that; with or without a label. I believe that prioritizing our mental health is extremely important; a lot of students tend to prioritize grades above everything else, particularly around midterm/exam season. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and a lot of other things get neglected as a result. There’s still a lot of progress to be made, but keeping the conversation going is a very important step in the right direction.”

– Quinn, McMaster Student

It’s sometimes hard to imagine anyone not having struggles with their mental health. The idea that someone is totally okay doesn’t seem real. I don’t know if there’s anyone who’s completely free from mental health issues. What I think makes a healthy mind is not the absence of mental illness, but the willingness to give yourself a chance to get better. I think a lot of people who struggle with mental health ultimately reach a point of learned helplessness; they either believe they can’t get better, or even worse, don’t deserve to get better. I think having a healthy mind means that when you do come face-to-face with a mental health battle, you are ready to give yourself the chance to cope. Whether that’s taking time for yourself, reaching out to friends or family, or by seeking professional help. I think people who are struggling with really poor mental health sometimes struggle to give themselves these opportunities. You deserve to beat the struggle. You deserve the chance to get better. Struggling with mental health sucks, but I know you deserve the chance to fight the struggle.

Hasan, McMaster Student

JackOrg McMaster Exec Team

“I think that as university students we have this mentality that if you’re not burning out you’re not working hard enough. Somehow being fuelled by caffeine and not having time to eat properly became a part of our definition of success. I want people to know that you can get 8 hours of sleep and still be considered a hard worker, and you can have days when you’re too sad to get out of bed and still be considered a strong, positive person. It’s impossible to be a human being without having some point in your life when you’re not completely happy and thriving. 
I advocate for mental health because I want people to know that they’re allowed to take breaks, they’re allowed to not be perfect, and they’re allowed to be sad, anxious, mad, paranoid, or anything else. You should never feel like you have to apologize for having an emotion, and you should never apologize for needing help to deal with it.”

-Julia Wickens, McMaster Co-Lead

“I advocate for mental health to allow others and myself to feel more comfortable verbalizing when they are not feeling okay. I have known family members and friends struggling with their mental health in silence and others that have taken their lives before ever engaging in a discussion about mental health. No one should ever feel like they must carry the weight of an illness by themselves or feel like because a topic is uncomfortable to talk about, that they should leave it unsaid. When we have a physical illness, we confide in our family members for support and go to a doctor to seek treatment. I hope that by increasing conversation about mental health that one day everyone will feel comfortable sharing how they’re doing and know that seeking help and talking about one’s problems does not show weakness, but demonstrates courage, strength and helps others do the same.”

– Niki Browne McMaster Co-Vp of Programming

Coming into university, I found a lot of people I spoke to mentioned how sleep deprived they were, and how extremely stressed and anxious they were, but rarely did they consider it a serious mental health concern because it became so normalized among all students. There’s this unspoken rule that to succeed in university you need to study 24/7 without a break, get as little sleep as possible, and join as many clubs as you possibly can until you have no free time. This pressure leads a lot of people, including myself, to put their mental health at the back of their mind rather than at the forefront. I found this extremely unsustainable, and after a few months into first year, I realized the importance of putting myself first and making sure I had time to take care of myself. 

Some things I’ve learned:

1. You NEED to put your mental health and health in general first. There’s no test, assignment, course that’s worth sacrificing your mental health.

2. You don’t need to have amazing marks or be the exec of 5 different clubs to feel good enough. You’re more than enough as you are, and your grades or involvement or anything else doesn’t change that, dictate your intelligence, or define who you are as a person. University itself is really tough, and you’ve gotta go be kind to yourself. 

3. It’s not just ok to ask for help, it’s necessary. From my experience, it’s almost impossible to get through mental health struggles alone, so make sure you find what you need. Whether that’s talking it out with a group of supportive friends, going to counseling, using SAS services, or finding support for whatever you may be struggling with (academic or not). It can feel like the scariest thing sometimes, or feel like you’re being a burden, but it’s always worth it and there are always people willing to help. It really does make a world of a difference. 

– Geetha Jeyapragasan, VP External

“Before joining, I always liked the idea of using my lived experience of mental illness to help others. gave me a platform for my voice. When I speak, I have the support of 2500 other advocates with me. Everyone has different stories and experiences, different reasons for why they advocate, but we are all working together for one goal: a mental health revolution.

Advocating for mental health can be scary because you are being vulnerable by sharing parts of yourself. But every conversation I’ve had about mental health makes me a better advocate and a better person. The power of vulnerability still continues to shock me. It builds connections and breaks down barriers.

I have lived with mental illnesses for many years and I am lucky that I have received effective treatment. I advocate for mental health because saying that still makes me feel vulnerable and I want to change that.”

– Emily Martin, McMaster Co-Lead

“When a person is being “selfish”, people perceive it as a negative – as someone taking time for themselves, without the consideration of others. What many people seldom realize is that on some occasions, you NEED to take time for yourself, whether to simply take a walk or rant to a friend. I used to wholeheartedly put other people’s needs in front of my own, thinking that a balance couldn’t be achieved because of a “you or them” kind of mentality. Now, after spending time learning about what I need to keep my mental health at bay, I realized that there CAN be a balance – I can still support people to the extent that I am pleased with, but also allow for myself to take a break every so often.

This is why I join – to show people that you DESERVE to take a break, even if you support others. No one deserves to put themselves down in any way, and I hope my time with this organization helps people to see that.”

– Brandon Malamis, Co-VP of Programming

“I advocate for mental health because I believe we need to open up the conversation since so many people still suffer in silence every day. I think it is hard for people to open up about their struggles because they may feel like they are not real or someone else has it worse. The fear of being judged by others or feeling like people will think you are weak stops so many people from getting the help they need. I have hesitated to open up about my insecurities because I always thought I was strong and independent and didn’t want to be vulnerable. I have since realized that I can still be the strong independent woman I am but just with a few bad days and insecurities and that’s okay. University is hard and we don’t give ourselves enough credit. I have felt not smart enough, doubted myself, and compared myself to others way too often. I never felt good enough and struggled to feel like my true self since coming to university. Yet I hesitated to tell anyone because I always thought no, someone has it worse and I’m making a big deal of nothing. But your feelings are valid and instead of comparing situations let’s come together and spread kindness. A simple smile in the hallway or holding a door for someone can have a huge positive impact on their day. It is important for people to see that they are not alone. Once we realize we are all in this together (High School Musical said it well) we really are unstoppable. Also remember, as I have learned, you don’t have to be “good enough” for anyone or anything, you are enough all on your own.”

 Tammy Van Herk, VP Finance

“Mental health and mental illness has been a huge part of my life. I spent my formative years as an inpatient and accumulated over 1000 days laying in a hospital bed. I spent the past three years in outpatient treatment mourning the life I lost. I never went to high school, I never got the chance to go to school dances, fight with my parents about curfew, find my stereotypical high school gang. Since I was a long term inpatient the friends I made left between days to weeks after I met them and in lockdown we’re not allowed to share information so when they left, they were gone. After going through immense amounts of treatment I was discharged and it’s been almost three years since I’ve had to be an inpatient. What I learned after starting at McMaster University, moving to Hamilton, and working with the local hospital treatment centres; I wouldn’t give up my time away. If I had to go through it again; I would. All those nights when teens took selfies on social media and I spent colouring a sheet of paper with a crayon made me into who I am today which is someone I’m actually proud of. I face my challenges; I have a terrible memory, my hands always tremble, my extremities move involuntarily, I have osteoporosis and chronic pain, not to mention all of the emotions I go through, thoughts that race, and impulses I resist. I was deemed disabled last year and now receive income support and luckily with that support I could finally afford my very own service dog, Peach. Mental illness is scary, it can take over your entire life and create obstacles you could’ve never predicted. But it’s also a gift. Creativity is grown from pain, logic grows with experience, and hate transforms into love. I’m blessed to be a person who can sincerely connect with the fact that you can’t see the beauty of the sun until you’ve lived in darkness.”

– Zee Malvern, VP Marketing

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