Together in tough times

This year was a real bruiser. With heated yearlong funding debates, we all danced a little closer around the very real question of whether or not our school is going to exist in twenty years. All of this Heideggerian groundlessness was enough to make us feel bummed out.
In such difficult times, King’s took a more active stance in mental health advocacy than ever before. Direct student engagement began with the King’s Mental Health Awareness Collective, which is jointly sponsored by the KSU and the King’s administration. Beginning in autumn, discussion about mental health began to flourish. It was noticeable all over the school, from discussions with mental health advocates such as King’s alum Michael Kimber, to the King’s Theatrical Society’s production of The Ivory Cage, fourth-year Lauren Walsh-Greene’s play about the effects of an eating disorder. All of this follows the zine about mental health, “Speaking Our Minds”, published in 2009.
Mental health advocacy got its biggest push when it landed on the agendas of King’s Students’ Union council meetings. Councillor Stefanie Bliss, Member-At-Large Representative, came forward with her struggles with an eating disorder, and became a staunch supporter for union involvement in campus mental health issues
“The mental health policy at King’s has been outdated for decades,” says Bliss. “I know it hasn’t been rewritten in the last ten years. This year, reviewing the importance of mental health advocacy, has been a good start, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Bliss says that a lack of real policy and protocol regarding mental health leads to a type of stigmatization on the King’s campus.
“I don’t think it’s a conscious stigmatization on campus, but ableism is really easy to fall into. When you find out that someone has an anxiety disorder, it can become quite easy to worry about their capacities and start to question their ability to get things done on ‘the King’s level’.”
That ‘King’s level’ is one of the things that makes King’s unique: students get involved in multiple societies, take on leadership roles in many areas and balance 50 more things than we’re expected to. It’s what we like to brag about when we come home at Christmas, as we polish our shiny K-Pin before a fancy party. That ‘King’s level’ is also the cause for countless all-nighters, missed meals and a great deal of stress. But usually we just brush it off. We can take it.
Bliss says having a high standard of excellence and a constant can-do attitude has both pros and cons. She says this is something everyone faces, and comes out very prominently at King’s.
“Being critical of yourself is important, but I was taking that to a very unhealthy level.”
Bliss says she feels the stigma is not limited to students, and she says it prevents them from seeking help.
“Professors who may be suffering from mental disorders often feel forced to stay quiet about that for fear of losing their jobs. That sort of thing is really not okay. The mental health policy is incredibly vague and limited. It doesn’t really encompass the King’s community in a functional way.”
Bliss says this year was a good start, but we shouldn’t break out the champagne just yet. If this year was about advocacy, the next few years are going to focus on ground-level discussion, a shift in thinking that incorporates everything we’ve accomplished this year along with a change in thinking for students, professors and policy in general.
“We’re pretty good about tackling the hard issues here, and mental health should be one that we’re talking about. It’s about getting the word out there and saying ‘Hey, there are people on campus with emotional disorders and mental disorders’, and we should recognize that and not look at it as detrimental, because there are so many wonderful people who are going through things like that.”
The original print version of this article incorrectly identified the King’s Mental Health Awareness Collective as a ratified society and “Speaking Our Minds” as being published this year rather than 2009. We regret these errors.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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