Eli Ridder | Special Report
“We don’t offer help just because you don’t want to study.”
This is what one University of Guelph student heard from Bonnie Lasby, the program counsellor for 12 majors on campus.
Thomas, whose full identity The Avro Post has withheld due to concerns over privacy, went to Lasby in confidence over an existential crisis that he believes was mild depression a few years ago while working on his undergrad.
He added that, on top of his depression, he has “always had trouble with tests and it’s never really been something that’s had a chance to be addressed,” causing mental health struggles over high-pressure testing.
Thomas heard that there were some students who were “given an alternative”, and asked Lasby about accessing the accommodations others were receiving.
The counsellor told the barely coping student that “we don’t offer help just because you don’t want to study”, a reply Thomas told The Avro Post has been “burnt into my mind as the mentality UoG has toward me and my struggles with high pressure testing.”
“It makes me feel isolated, and like I can’t ask for any help.”
This meeting took place sometime in 2013. Shortly after the meeting with Lasby, Thomas switched out for a general science degree and took a break before re-enrolling for an honours degree despite knowing it was going to be a battle.
Since then, Thomas, who says he is timid already, has only been able to approach a few professors for the help he needs for the testing setting, and this often determines the outlook of a semester.
“I go from doing very well during a semester to scraping by because so many of my marks are tied up in heavily weighted tests,” Thomas said, saying that two hour tests will damage his academic focus and functionality.
Though Thomas says he wished he got the help he needed for mental health from the University of Guelph, it was that he “was basically called lazy for reaching out” that made him disenfranchised and angry.
“It was infuriating that I had the courage to approach the schools representative, and she made me feel like an idiot for it,” he wrote to The Avro Post.
“I was mad at them for not helping me, mad at myself for asking, mad at myself for needing help, and it wasn’t a healthy situation that I struggled with for a long time afterwards.”
There are four counsellors for the Bachelor of Science programs at the University of Guelph, according to the university website. The Avro Post has reached out to Bonnie Lasby and the University of Guelph for comment.
The university did later give a response to the series of stories The Avro Post published, with officials saying that the well-being of students stood as their “top priority” and detailed their mental health supports.
Thomas and several other students have come forward to The Avro Post with their stories of mental health at Guelph following a viral Dec. 5 tweet by Victoria Raymond blasting the university’s health supports.
The Ontario University and College Health Association, or OUCHA, published a survey in 2016 that found the rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts on campuses have experienced a dramatic increase since 2013, the last study it carried out.
Suicide has become the second-highest leading cause of death among Canadians aged 15 – 34, according to statistics provided by the University of Guelph.
That statistic does not include the number of students who have considered suicide or who have dropped out due to depression or other mental health related issues.
Jane Smith, a name to hide the identity of another Guelph student, told The Avro Post that “professors aren’t doing a great job at helping kids with mental health issues either”.
“I had to ask a professor if I could do a presentation at a later dat because the night before I was on the floor having a panic attack because I didn’t understand the content I was supposed to be presenting,” Smith said.
The professor responded by saying “I don’t really know you so I’m not sure why you’re telling me this”, dismissing her struggles. Smith found it hard to believe he did not “know her” because the class had 11 people.
Smith is enrolled in one course this semester that features over 100 pages of “DENSE” reading per week, giving her a workload of 500 pages to consume each week.
“And that’s just the readings, we have to pick between the readings or doing assignments because the workload is way too much,” she added.
Philosopher fourth year Smith was not aware the university had a trained psychiatrist on campus until the Raymond tweet, and went into some detail regarding the mental health supports offered by Guelph.
“The walk in facilities aren’t adequate, they run from 8-4, but with a bunch of kids trying to see someone, you end up waiting for up to [two] hours to see someone,” she sent in a message to the Post, adding that students “actually have to make an appointment” for the walk-in service.
“The most they’ve done so far with respect to ‘helping’ the mental health stuff is adding a ‘friendship bench’ that’s yellow and says ‘yellow is for hello'”, she wrote, referencing the Friendship Bench organization.
The non-for-profit Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench was launched in 2015, and seeks to connect those experiencing mental health issues on post-secondary campuses with local and community services, as well as raise awareness and educate on illness symptoms.
The Friendship Bench, which is also available at Humber College, sends students to a mental health landing page on the university website, which features a phone help line and a portal for getting assistance.
Editor’s Note: Other students have come forward to The Avro Post regarding mental health supports at the University of Guelph, and their stories will be published in a continuing series of posts.
Image of the University of Guelph from Wikimedia Commons.