I feel much sorrow for the family and friends of the young man that took his life this week. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and even though I never met this individual I know the pain and emptiness that filled him. The cascade we put on pretending we’re happy and strong, because that’s what society expects. High functioning individuals. But deep down we’re empty. sad, and so very tired. Suicide isn’t something that just happens, it’s a conscious choice because of outside failures to help them before then. With schools and job fields getting more competitive, it’s not surprising more students are under intense pressure and demands trying to compete with often the best of the best.
The pressure to maintain high grades is honestly a huge problem with many schools, much more than people realize, struggle through. The way some schools try to hype people into the mentality that you’re some prestigious golden child if you’ve got the grades and if you’re in the “right” program makes me sick to my stomach and leaves many students feeling lost and without any appreciation of how amazing of a person they truly are. Grades should not define someone’s worth. Life is so much more than that! We need to encourage people to talk to their loved ones and learn that it’s health and often important that we share our problems.
First year of university especially can be ridiculously confusing, lonely, and difficult, it’s hard to see ourselves for the people we are or even want to be. Our frame of reference is limited. To have been accepted to many programs across the country you were among the best in your high schools, good grades, good extracurriculars, very little time spent actually studying. It is difficult to realize that you might not be in the top 10, or even the top 60 of your class any more when you get into your first term. Until that point doing very well in school has been a big part of your identity. When the numbers coming back are low but the person next to you does better it is hard not to compare and think they are better than you. For self motivated perfectionists it is difficult to be middle of the pack, you have to re-evaluate who you are, what your strengths are. You have to remember that you are capable, that you will still do great things and enrich the lives of the people you meet. But the last thing they want to do is reveal their own perceived weakness because of how society looks down upon mental illness. This is a problem with modern academia and it’s a problem with more and more schools every year. That’s why depression and suicidal thoughts are so difficult to escape because people are so afraid to ask for help in trying not to seem weak. Instead, people in that place often over compensate, they seem optimistic and happy on the outside when inside they’re struggling.
The fact that counselling services in post-secondary instituions across the country are atrociously understaffed, underfunded, and under appreciated by the administration shows a collective problem of how we can help students. With my own experience of having mental health issues, I went to counselling services, and had my case deemed not as vital and was therefore put on a three month wait. Things like this explain why incidents like this happen. The reality is our universities are not equipped or not unwilling to deal with those who need help the most, and that makes me furious.
One of the failings of modern society is our failure to recognize mental health issues to the degree they should be. The peer and societal pressure is very real, as is the importance of mental health. Saving a life can be as easy as saying hello and genuinely meaning it. Tomorrow whether you have class or go to work, I encourage you to please tell someone that they can always talk to you if they need help. If someone is talking about things like depression, anxiety, stress, or even depression then you need to be there for them.
So many of us hide our suffering and pain behind brave faces. We must be there for one another. We must remind one another that it’s completely normal to not feel okay, but not feeling okay for prolonged periods of time should be addressed. As humans we need to process emotions and find healthy coping mechanisms. We need to remind each other we are not a superhero and we don’t have to be afraid or suffer things alone because we believe no one else cares. Talking can make all the difference.
I hope and pray for the young man’s family and to give them the strength to get through this difficult time. I hope schools will wake up and recognize the seriousness of these issues and actually put words into action.