Student Mental Health on Campus - A Personal Perspective

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Antonio Brieva
2017-2018 Feds President
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 10:30

By: Antonio Brieva, Feds President

Concerns around mental health in the post-secondary sector are more salient than ever. As a result, a significant amount of my time as President of Federation of Students (Feds) is dedicated to advocating for improved mental health awareness and services on campus and in the broader community.

Antonio Brieva

Mental health on campus is an issue that strikes a personal chord. I don’t often talk about my own struggles with mental health, but as I write this blog, I realize how important it is for me to share my stories of struggle as I occupy the office of President of the Federation of Students.

Often times, those in positions of leadership steer away from sharing their own personal failures and struggles in fear that it’d be viewed as a weakness. As a result, often we reproduce a flawless image and characterization of a leader. I don’t want to fall into the trap of creating a space that those with different lived experiences, failures, and personal struggles can’t occupy.

During my five year undergrad journey, I encountered a variety of challenges and concerns around my mental health. I struggled with coming to terms with my sexuality; I struggled coming out to friends and family; I struggled with food restriction and obsessive exercise; and I struggled acknowledging my struggles with mental health, asking for help, and accessing mental health services.

As it is for many students in our community, I was forced to face my struggles head on after these strange, discoloured spots started appearing on my hand. I thought it was a skin rash from running out in the cold. However, after getting it checked out by a doctor who ran a series of tests on me, I found out I had a severe protein deficiency — which explained my struggle to function on a day-to-day basis the months prior.

The doctor continued and said I ran the risk of liver failure in the next six months if I don’t address the mental health concerns behind the behaviour causing these physical health concerns. It took this grim reality check to finally acknowledge the problem and accept the help I needed.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, this week on October 24, following the Feds’ Annual General Meeting, we will be hosting a Q&A panel on student mental health. The Q&A panel was organized to offer students and other members of the community a chance to learn more and ask questions on what the University of Waterloo is doing to address concerns around student mental health on campus — specifically, the work of the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH).

This year, my work on campus mental health is concentrated around PAC-SMH as one of the two undergraduate representatives on the committee. The committee was struck together earlier this year in the aftermath of losing two of our students to suicide. PAC-SMH started its work early in the spring term. Since May, the committee recruited members of the University of Waterloo community to compose five panels, each with its own mandate, that report to the PAC-SMH: mental health experts panel; student services panel; the community partners panel; the academic panel; and the student experience panel.

The panels have been meeting and conducting their work on a regular basis since the end of July, and as a committee member, I serve as the liaison to the student experience panel and the lead of the panel’s research working group.  The committee’s ultimate goal is to have a comprehensive report prepared and on the President’s desk by January 2018.

The student experience is at the heart of the work we’re doing. It’s why I’m adamant in encouraging you all to come out to the Q&A panel and participate. Watch the livestream; ask questions online using the hashtags #FedsAGM2017 and #uwmentalhealth; come find out some of the early progress/findings from the panels reporting to PAC-SMH; and share your stories of dealing with mental health (if you’re ready to) from the perspective of a student at the University of Waterloo.

As a campus community, we need to have tough conversations on student mental health to identify and recommend ways to remove barriers students may face in accessing mental health services on campus and in the community, and ensure the recommendations from the PAC-SMH will be effective and long-lasting.