Having Depression in a School that Neglects Mental Health
How I regret some decisions made
High school, Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, PhD, job, marriage, children...
...and the cycle repeats itself.
As a girl born into a brown family, this is the only acceptable life plan. This is what I've worked towards from the moment I learned to read. I was put in the Extended French program at 8 years old so that I could go to a reputable high school, and I went to countless tutors and paid them thousands of dollars to do well in high school, to get into a top Canadian university, which is where I am in my life now.
Another con about being born into a traditional Sri Lankan family is this.
It's outrageous, impossible even, to have a mental health issue as a kid.
That's why I couldn't share my emotions with my parents. To them, depression is something that can only happen if a loved one dies, or a spouse leaves you, etc.
I'm not upset about being sent to the high school I went to though. Overall I had a generally positive high school experience. Bullying was rare, and almost everyone seemed to be friends. It was so peaceful that when I went to college and heard about the high school environments other people were in, I was in pure shock.
I was still depressed though. I knew it, my friends knew it, my teachers knew it, my guidance counselors knew it, but my parents or my doctor did not. I was scared. I knew if I told my parents I'd get ignored. I'd get accused of seeking attention. But I've known it since I was 12 years old. I had a generally happy childhood, so when the sadness started consuming me and I couldn't put a reason on why I was so sad, I knew it.
My guidance counselors did however tell my parents once. They took me to the doctor only because the school needed proof that they took me to get help. However, neither my parents nor my doctor mentioned it ever again. It just became a forgotten event.
It was around this time that I was choosing colleges. I didn't worry about getting in, but I worried about fitting in. I was always a girl who made better friends with boys than girls. I was scared this wouldn't go well in university.
There was one amazing school I intentionally avoided just because I knew that most of the people in my high school end up there and I was looking for a fresh start; a place where I didn't know anyone and no one knew me.
When I mentioned the university I attend now to my friend back then, I remember him saying,
"This school is okay for people like me, but for you, your mental health, you just won't survive. I'm only saying this with the best of intentions for you."
I ignored him. This school was close to home, but far enough that I didn't have to live at home, which was great. I could live away from my family, but close enough that I could visit every weekend. This system worked for a while until the second semester of my first year in college.
Here's what happened:
I was at a time crunch to get a project done. For a student studying architecture, I had absolutely no experience with the software we were told to use for the project, and to top it all off, my laptop was giving me trouble. Furthermore, I received some bad news from an ex-friend the night before. I burst into tears. I knew it was a mental breakdown. The first thing I did was email my professor, explaining to her that I needed some more time.
I didn't expect the response that she gave me. She told me that if I didn't hand in the work on time, she'd fail me for the whole course. This was ridiculous, as I had been getting near 90's in the course so far. It made my breakdown worse. I called my mom at 1am crying, begging her to pray for me. I think that's when my parents started understanding that mental health problems in children, teens, and young adults, was real.
While they started prioritizing my mental health needs, my school didn't seem to care. Following my professor's email, I went to see my school's registrar.
"That prof is known to do this. Just drop the course and retake it next year," they said.
Being a student in first year, I didn't have the guts to question them, or argue with them. I just accepted it and did as they suggested.
I could feel my mental health deteriorating slowly. At a school where suicides on campus are kept a secret, I didn't know where to go for help.
I knew I was feeling suicidal, my anxiety attacks were horrible, and my depression was worse than it ever was before. It didn't help that my roommate at the time was in a similar situation.
Slowly, I noticed that some of my friends were struggling mentally as well. It had to be the school. Of course, I don't know what goes on in everyone's life behind closed doors, but when literally EVERYONE around me starts breaking down around the same time, it's obvious that the main cause is the school.
We go to a school where money comes first. They don't actually care about us.
As my grade 12 Economics teacher said, "In university, you're all just tagged cows. Nobody cares about you, nobody wants to get to know you. They just want your money. Sorry to say it, but that's the reality of it."
They bury us in assignments, deadlines, and exams. They purposely make midterm exams difficult so that they can scare some students away. Some professors find joy in failing students for work that deserved a decent grade. And then there's the infamous Bell curve where your own grade depends on the entire class' performance. It can either screw you over or work in your favour, but it's just a game of chance.
Of course, there are health and wellness centres, but those seem like they are just there by government obligation. It is so hard to get an appointment, and they are only open for a couple hours a day. They don't even offer a walk-in option for those days when you suddenly feel down and urgently need someone to talk to. It's a disappointing system.
Knowing my mental health, I wish I could go back and do more research on post-secondary schools that prioritize mental health. Don't get me wrong, I am proud of my choice and proud of the school I go to, but not because it's a good educational experience; it's because I met some of the best people I've ever known there and can't imagine myself anywhere else.
The best I can do now is really work on ways to boost my mental health outside of school and surround myself with the people I love. As for my school, I could start a new club or organization to help students but I don't know if I can help people when my own state is so horrible. Perhaps when I'm well and confident in my abilities. Until then, I encourage anyone choosing schools to think about the school's resources for mental health. And to anyone who is in my situation, keep strong and keep encouraging yourself. Surround yourself with wonderful people who care about you and hopefully you'll get through it together.