Dispatches from the frontlines of the university mental health epidemic.
Maybe you are a Student. You moved out of the comforts of your family home to attend university, and you find yourself in a strange land. Your friends from high school are gone. The daily support and reminders from your parents and teachers are gone. You are studying a degree that you’re not really confident in – you just picked something. You’re here, but you’re not sure if you should be. You might be grieving the loss of old friends, the distance from your family, the end of your varsity career or your time as a lead in the school plays. Everyone says, “Go enjoy yourself! It’s university!” But sometimes you want your old life back. Your old routine that made sense. Your old teachers that actually told you exactly what was expected. And because of all of this piling up, you have not been very motivated so far. You sleep a lot. Or, at least, you lie in bed on Netflix or scrolling social media when you know you should be in class. University is much harder than you had imagined.
Maybe you are a parent. You worked hard to get to this point. Your baby is off to University! And the hopes that you have for her may be higher than your parents had for you. You have been asking your daughter which university she hopes to attend since she was in Grade 9. You are a proud parent. She is going to be a success! You are absolutely sure of it. And you secretly think that this success is because of everything you have done to set her up for it.
Maybe you are a grandparent. You want the absolute best for your grandchildren. You care deeply for them. In fact, you worked a 50-hour shift week at that dead-end job with the dream of providing a flourishing future for your children and, someday, grandchildren. You beam with pride and joy when you think about your granddaughter.
I’m a chaplain on a university campus, and I have met all of you. It’s become common-place to hear students admit they are suffering from depression. Stress levels are at an all-time high. Anxiety is bubbling up and boiling over. This is university life today. We are facing an ever-growing, no-signs-of-stopping mental health epidemic among young students. It’s time for these three generations to talk to each other.
I write this for grandparents, so that you know your love and hard work has not been wasted. And that your support continues to matter today. Whether or not you feel appreciated by your university-aged grandchildren, call them. Let them hear a voice of non-judgmental love and support. Mail a care package. Be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on – whether physically or from a distance.
I write this for parents. Your dedication to caring for and supporting your children is the foundation for their success today. Continue to strive to care for, love and support your children in this new stage. Resist pressuring them about the future. Find time to genuinely listen to your children, even if it’s all about Philosophy 1F90 and the unfair professor. Give them space and time when they need it. Pray for them and encourage them to seek a deep Christian community that can support them (again: without pressure!). They need you more than they need to hear about your hopes and dreams for them.
I write this for students. You are absolutely not alone. Do not be ashamed of your feelings. In fact, more of your fellow students feel anxious and worried than you think. Don’t compare yourself to the student next door, the one with straight A’s or the one with a million Instagram followers and the seemingly perfect life. They probably feel the same way you do.
If you find yourself in a depressed or negative spiral, stay there for a while. Feel what you need to feel. But do not live in this space. Do not dwell here forever. Seek out help. This might look like professional help – counsellors provided by the university. This might look like a community of students – a club, a ministry, a committee. As a Chaplain, I see the incredible merit of a faithful community of students who come around one another in emotional, spiritual and educational support and prayer. So reach out. Email or call your Chaplain or a trusted professor. Walk into the counselling services office or sign-up for educational aid. Give your parents or grandparents a call. Be honest. Share the difficulties that you are facing every day in your cramped dorm room or in the overwhelming classroom. Find the support that you need and do not be ashamed of it. You are not alone in your struggle. You can do this, because you have the love and unconditional support of your grandparents, your parents, your church, your community and your heavenly Father. Be reminded of that today and every day.