‘I want to talk!’ Waterloo students demonstrate for better mental health support

Months of waiting for counselling and the culture of high productivity has University of Waterloo students demonstrating at arts quad Thursday morning.

“I want to talk!” One student chanted. “We want to listen!” The crowd answered.

WaterlooWalkout for Mental Health was organized after a 22-year-old student in his fourth year of study died by suicide on campus on Monday.

About 200 students showed up. Some held signs. Others shared their struggles with mental health and what they believe is a lack of support on campus from counselling services.

“It seemed like they didn’t care about what I had to say,” said Iman Abbarao, who has been studying at the university for almost four years.

“The other day I told my friends that if I didn’t have family and friends in downtown Toronto, I probably would have taken my own life at some point along this journey,” she said in front of the crowd of students.

Iman Abbarao Waterloo mental health

Iman Abbarao, a student in her fourth year, said the only way she can get support is to leave campus and take a two-hour GO bus ride to downtown Toronto where her family is. (Flora Pan/CBC)

One after another, students recalled times when they went to counselling services but were told the next available appointment is months away. Other students spoke about abuse, sexual assault, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Chelsea MacDonald, a first year student studying theatre performance, said she is angry about the state of support available for students.

“And then something like this happens, the university tells me go to counselling services. I can’t even f–ing get an appointment,” she said.

Mental health report

Matthew Grant, the university’s director of media relations, said at the rally that it was “very brave” for the students to share their experiences with mental health.

He said the mental health report being released on March 14 will have recommendations for improving student mental health on campus. There is also a town hall where the president will talk about the report and address student questions.

Currently, there are 22 full-time equivalent counselling services staff and 2 full-time equivalent psychiatrists serving 31,380 undergraduate students and 5,290 graduate students.

For comparison, at the University of Guelph, there are 16 full-time counsellors, one full-time psychiatrist and one part-time psychiatrist serving about 23,000 students.

A Wilfrid Laurier University spokesperson said for approximately 14,500 full-time equivalent students at the Waterloo campus, there are more than 30 staff, a mix of full-time and part-time physicians, nurses and counsellors, at the Student Wellness Centre who address mental health concerns.

Sundus Salame waterloo mental health walkout

Sundus Salame said the pressure to succeed academically is intense and she frequently feels like despite studying very hard, she isn’t good enough. (Flora Pan/CBC)

‘Very competitive’ culture on campus

Aside from the long wait times for counselling, students mentioned the pressure to succeed academically and getting good co-op job placements makes it very difficult.

“Somehow I have to be superhuman, or I have to have some kind of time-turner to catch up with all of these deadlines and readings,” said Sundus Salame.

“A lot of people here are pushed to just work 24/7 just to get 80 average, just because the courses are designed to just weed out anyone who does less than an excessive amount of work,” she said.

Chelsea MacDonald waterloo mental health

Chelsea MacDonald is in her first year studying theatre and performance. She lives in a one-person suite in residence and says she feels isolated. (Flora Pan/CBC)

In her speech to the crowd, MacDonald said students on campus are so wound up in the “grind for grades, grind for co-op,” that there is very little feeling of community.

Despite having friends, she said she frequently feels lonely.

“I don’t feel safe in my dorm anymore,” she said, “Because I know if I was ever, ever, at that point, how long would it take for someone to find me?”

Sarah Welton Waterloo walkout

Sarah Welton organized the walkout in a matter of days after the 22-year-old student died on campus. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Sarah Welton, who organized Thursday’s walkout, said coming to the university as a second-year student was “very alienating, very isolating.”

“I’ve heard so many people express the same sentiment over and over again,” she said.

“I don’t feel that all these reports they keep sending out are going to do enough, if they aren’t actually trying to take action and make some real concrete changes around the university.”

Reposted from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/university-of-waterloo-campus-mental-health-1.4567382

Michael Phelps on Life After Swimming and His Battle With Depression.

The most decorated Olympian of all time wants you to know he has bad days — some very bad days — just like so many people. “I’m not a superhuman,” Michael Phelps tells LIVESTRONG.COM. “I’m a human being who was very fortunate to find something that I love and find something that I’m good at and really never give up. But, really, that’s it.”

While he made success in the pool look easy, a shadow hung over the star athlete for years as he battled depression. Now Phelps is sharing more about his mental health issues. “These are things that have been a part of me for so long,” he says. “I just decided it was time to open up and talk about some of the struggles I’ve had in my life. Just being able to get out and talk about it and communicate about it — almost become vulnerable — I think is something that will help a lot of people,” Phelps, who will appear in a new documentary titled “Angst” to talk about his depression and being bullied, tells LIVESTRONG.COM.

Since retiring from swimming with 23 gold medals after the Rio Olympics in 2016, Phelps has had to readjust his routine and figure out what’s next for him. “For a long time, swimming was that thing that got me out of bed every morning early to go and jump in a freezing-cold pool. But now, kind of starting the next chapter for me, I’ve been asking myself where I want to be and what I want to do.”

Those next steps include working on a cause close to his heart: water conservation. “I obviously grew up in water and in around water for a very long time,” Phelps, a global ambassador for Colgate’s Save Water campaign, says about the world’s most vital resource. “I think it’s little small things that we can do together — no-brainers like not leaving the faucet running when you brush your teeth [and taking] shorter showers.”

His life at home with his wife, Nicole Johnson, is also becoming more of a focus, as their son, Boomer, is now 17 months old and they are about to become parents for a second time. But Phelps says he would never force his kids into the athlete life. “For me, I had an awesome mom growing up who was just so supportive of everything that we did,” Phelps says. “If I wanted to quit swimming, she was fine with it because she wanted us to follow our hearts. The only thing I’m adamant about is that [Boomer] has to learn to swim. Other than that, he can play another sport, whatever makes him happy.”

Reposted from: https://www.livestrong.com/article/13590348-michael-phelps-on-life-after-swimming-and-his-battle-with-depression/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=Keywee&kwp_0=599482&kwp_4=2116520&kwp_1=884107

Life with Depression.

How many times in my life I have heard people say “but you’re always smiling” or “you’re just using it as an excuse to get out of doing something” or “everybody gets sad, so you need to get over it.”.  Why would I want to live a life purposefully where I feel like crap for weeks on end? Yes, I do get sad like a normal person. It’s normal to be sad going through a break up, failing an exam, or losing someone you love. What is NOT normal is feeling sad and empty for weeks on end and not having the energy or motivation to get on with living.

I’ve always been motivated, hardworking, and ambitious. Losing these qualities when I hit my bouts of depression makes me even more depressed, like i’m not good enough. It’s hard enough to be criticized by other people, but I think the toughest critic is myself. I don’t pick and choose what I want to do or don’t want to do and I am by no means lazy. It’s actually upsetting to hear someone I love tell me “you don’t have any priorities to worry about”, implying I get to be sad all day and have nothing to worry about. I hate that feeling of being judged as weak, I am not weak and I work my ass off when I need to get things done. I’m also not afraid to speak out when I feel like I can’t handle something, a task not many people are able to admit. I have priorities, I have a dissertation to complete and a Master’s to obtain. I worked my butt off for a whole year pulling off great marks and yeah I did have a set back, but the best thing someone can  say is “How can I help?”. I don’t need an opinion or judgement and I know other people struggling with mental illness would feel the same way. I don’t need to be told that I am “pathetically weak”, when I know I am more than capable of making a path of my own in this world. I’ve built great track records with being employed, within my community, and in academics.

I’m not afraid to admit I have issues or openly support a stranger with warmth and kindness. What we need is compassion and support, the same qualities you need when you’re feeling down or stressed.

I would say most people will have bouts of depression, some people can get over it on their own very quickly, while others like me when we hit the ground hard, need that support from others or medication or other forms of therapy. Life isn’t easy and it’s scary to think how much more competition there is to make a sustainable living. Depression isn’t something people should be ashamed of, and I shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable talking about it. Just like people who get migraines or sore limbs can talk about how they are feeling, I should be able to do the same.

I think what is important to take out of things is not only being able to practice self-love, but also to learn to be an empathetic human being. We all go through struggles, but yet many are so quick to judge other people’s situation and offer their own criticisms. It’s time we change this mentality and take time to understand what people are going through. You don’t need to know someone’s story, but you can be kind and understanding towards other people. At the end of the day we are all different, we all have our own struggles, and the least we can do is offer our respect and support for the battles people are facing. Just because you can’t see whats beneath the surface, doesn’t mean it’s not real or happening.

Below is a picture of Depression Bingo. The most common things people who suffer from depression hear from those around them.

Can you relate to the image?


– M


I don’t understand why people feel the need to judge others, whether its based off of wealth, beauty, appearance, or intelligence.

First of all who cares. Let people live their life. If you don’t have something positive to say about someone then you shouldn’t have to say it at all or if you don’t mean something don’t bother to say it.

It’s scary to realize how many people fail to realize that words hurt. What we say and do to others matter. Just because you can’t see how someone ‘reacts’ to what you said doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt them. Building people up starts young. We should work together to build upon people’s strengths and self-esteem. It would go a long way to promoting good mental health.

In truth though, beauty comes from within. You can buy beauty, but you can’t buy class or personality.

Everyone has something to offer to the world. Acceptance and making people feel accepted goes a long way in making the world around us a better place.




Depression, Anxiety, And What It's Like To Be Me

So proud of this young woman I am able to call a friend for being so brave and sharing her story with the world. I am incredibly grateful to have met this young, smart and beautiful woman as a summer student working at our summer job. I am also so proud that both of our perspectives on battling through mental illness will hopefully give others a sense of support and help raise awareness for those who are not quite ready to share their story or may not know much about how depression and anxiety works.

Her story is a perfect reminder of the fact that there’s no shame in struggling with depression. Mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of how smart or successful you are. Just as someone battles cancer or any other chronic disease, it’s a real illness and takes a brave person to continuously fight day in and day out.

Take a moment of your day and read through her story and encourage more voices to be heard.

While there is no cure for depression (yet, but hopefully one day!) there are ways to manage your condition and symptoms. It’s perfectly normal for some people to take medication and seek professional therapy or for others to rely on exercise, diet, and avoid medication. There’s no right or wrong way or even “one way” to treat depression for that matter. Everybody is different and all our bodies and minds react in different ways, at the end of the day you need to do what feel right for you. Seeking advice from people you trust and your doctor is a good way to begin the process, and nobody should ever feel pressured to have to go with one form of treatment (ie. being forced to take medication).

I hope this post will inspire others like it did for me, please feel free to share this blog post and check out her blog if you have the chance!




This post is going to be personal. I’ve hinted at the issues I deal with a few times on Facebook, but I’ve never fully described them all at once in one place. I want to make this post …

Source: Depression, Anxiety, And What It’s Like To Be Me

Making a Difference in the World of Children's Mental Health.

Love that today The Duchess of Cambridge (or also known as Princess Kate) was highlighted as the guest editor for the UK edition of the Huffington Post. She was enlisted to bring attention to the #YoungLivesMatter edition of the website highlighting the issue of children’s mental health, an often neglected area of health care and education systems around the world. This new initiative seeks to encourage individuals of all walks of life to join in on the conversation surrounding mental health, particularly young individuals in ensuring that they are able to feel loved, secure, valued, and understood. Articles in this section will seek to help combat the stigma that is often associated with mental health issues (particularly in children) and discuss the causes and potential solutions that could be used to fight this health crisis.

Research has shown that mental health issues often start early.  In the United Kingdom, one young person in 10 is estimated to experience some form of emotional or mental health problem each year. These problems become significantly worse as the age demographics move up towards post-secondary education, with approximately 1 in 5 (in Canada) reporting some form of mental health issue (ex anxiety, depression, etc). Furthermore, half of young adults with mental health disorders first experience difficulties before they are 15.

As pointed out my the Duchess in her blog post today:

“What I did not expect was to see that time and time again, the issues that led people to addiction and destructive decision making seemed to almost always stem from unresolved childhood challenges……children – even those younger than five – have to deal with complex problems without the emotional resilience, language or confidence to ask for help. And it was also clear that with mental health problems still being such a taboo, many adults are often too afraid to ask for help for the children in their care. ”

Why are our systems reacting so slow to addressing these problems? Children are supposedly “our hope for the future”, yet we are failing many of the children in giving them a successful head start in developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Although not all forms of mental illness have specific cures, preventative efforts are crucial to giving people the support they need to live functional and fulfilling lives. We are all well aware the economic impact that mental illness has, yet for many who choose to seek help it if often mission impossible to even get on the waiting list for help. In Canada and the United States there is emerging concern about a shortage of child psychiatrists that is predicted to get worse. Even more alarming, a 1999 study indicated that there were 6,148 children with mental health needs per child psychologist in Ontario. Keeping in mind, there are only approximately 2,000 psychologists in ALL of Ontario. Even worse, in all of rural Ontario (a MASSIVE plot of land) there were only 21 practicing psychiatrists serving rural Ontario (Bazana, 1999). HUH??? I am well aware of the dilemmas of trying to recruit physicians to remote and rural areas, but we need to find ways to encourage more people to serve these populations. Mandatory rural/remote medical placements should be encouraged, possibly even another Northern medical school with a mandatory placement time up north should be encouraged. For many these are not ideal places to live, but as someone serving the medical community these people are in need of care and for many living on the reserves there is a dire need for more medical professionals and psychologists to address these long-standing problems.

We as a society need to do more to train a variety of individuals with how to identify and help those who may be struggling to navigate our often complex and fragmented system.  In the UK alone, more than 15,000 people working in a variety of schools have been trained as mental health first aiders. An excellent program to help spot potential warning signs and a method to provide children with access to an initial support system and guide in obtaining the resources needed to help them.

As Michelle Obama put it in her comission blog post for the Young Minds Matter edition:

“Sadly, too often, the stigma around mental health prevents people who need help from seeking it. But that simply doesn’t make any sense. Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there shouldn’t be any distinction. We would never tell someone with a broken leg that they should stop wallowing and get it together…..We shouldn’t treat mental health conditions any differently. Instead, we should make it clear that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength – and we should ensure that people can get the treatment they need.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 1.43.58 PM



Articles cited: