Opinion: Student support systems suffer under the cancellation of student group activities

Necessary COVID-19 measures continue to complicate access to mental health help

Opinion: Student support systems suffer under the cancellation of student group activities

I am a graduate student currently working on research for my master’s thesis. I don’t have regular contact with any of my fellow colleagues, so I decided to join a new wellness group at the University of Toronto: Community Wellness Dialogue (CWD).

However, due to the university’s decision to cancel any non-essential gathering, the group’s first meeting had to be called off.

CWD organizer Stephanie Pflugfelder wrote, “I think that the university has an obligation to make tough decisions to protect its students, especially the most vulnerable amongst us. When it comes to CWD, we were disappointed to have to cancel the first group meeting because we feel that especially in trying times like this, it’s important to have a support system you can rely on.”

She also highlighted the importance of groups like CWD in helping to create connections to help “overcome some of life’s big challenges.”

I am currently struggling with anxiety and the pressures of graduate life. I had hoped that by attending the group’s meetings, I would be able to get support from fellow students. But at this time we don’t know when we might be able to have a meeting.

I understand the need to take precautions and prevent students’ exposure to COVID-19. However, that must be weighed against the need for student mental health support. It is especially important when graduate students seek out safe spaces and groups to help them get through the emotional challenges of solitary graduate life.

Considering the university’s aim to promote students’ physical and mental well-being, it needs to carefully think about the impact that these closures can have on struggling students. Many students are far from home and may not have close contact with their local support system, be that classes, group get-togethers, or in-person counselling.

In the future, the university should inform students about potential closures at least a week in advance, to give students more time to plan. I also hope that the university makes an effort to contact students who have sought help in the past, especially those who receive consistent care through the Health & Wellness Centres across campuses.

Ateeqa Arain is a second-year master’s student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

The rise of U of Thrive

How 24 students came together in 24 hours to advocate for student mental health

The rise of U of Thrive

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

One Tuesday morning — March 19, 2019 — Loizza Aquino was jarred out of sleep by a call from an unknown number. Two days prior, a University of Toronto student had died by suicide at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology; by that morning, word had spread. Students had planned protests, and media outlets were vying for coverage.

Aquino picked up the phone. The caller was a CBC representative, requesting her presence in the studio for the radio show Here and Now — they were hoping that she could comment on the student’s death.

Aquino is an award-winning mental health advocate who founded Peace of Mind Canada, a youth-led organization that works to reduce mental health stigma, when she was a high school student. Though she’s now a third-year student at UTSC, she has been engaged in activism since the age of nine; she has appeared on air with Global News and spoken at over a hundred events and institutions.

She frequently fields media requests, so this particular CBC request was not unusual. However, that Tuesday morning, when she answered the call, was.

Several years prior, when Aquino was 15 and still living in Winnipeg, her best friend Miguel Labossiere had died from suicide. That Tuesday morning would have been the morning of Labossiere’s 22nd birthday.

It was also the morning Aquino decided that the mental health culture at U of T needed to change. Nevertheless, before the calendar year ended, another death on campus would prompt her and a collective of students who felt the same way to come together and form U of Thrive.

Personal stories like Aquino’s are at the heart of U of Thrive, which brands itself as “a tri-campus student collective dedicated to elevating student voices on mental health.”

“Our goal is different from other mental health movements on campus,” Executive Member Ashwini Selvakumaran noted, highlighting the group’s focus on creating cultural change. “We want to showcase more of the stories students have.” By providing students with a platform to express themselves, they hope to build solidarity and a sense of community through storytelling.

U of Thrive is a movement, Aquino told me, not a club. Selvakumaran agreed, emphasizing the group’s desire to leave a legacy — to see change made and maintained. Its name is a play on the common institutional nickname given to U of T by students: ‘U of Tears.’ To Aquino, U of Thrive challenges the cutthroat competitive culture underlying the school’s mental health crisis.

“We really want to promote the idea [that] you can still take care of yourself — you can still eat your three meals a day and get your seven hours of sleep — and be a successful student,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see how it’s a possibility — and I think that’s the dangerous part.”

The group’s commitment to its work is deeply rooted in individual experiences: Selvakumaran recounted being in a dark place during her first year, and wondering, “Why am I alone, and why isn’t there anyone to help me?” If it’s within her power, she said, she never wants another student to feel that way again.

A heavy frustration with the status quo also plays a central role in what they do. “You’re paying to go to school,” Aquino pointed out. “I know that education is amazing — it’s an opportunity, and I’m grateful. But at the same time… I wish I could just go to school; I wish I could just study.”

“I wish I didn’t have to worry about the stigma surrounding mental health that makes me take time out of studying… to demand mental health awareness, to demand mental health conversation, to demand proper and adequate mental health resources.”

The time and effort of coordinating the U of Thrive events and outreach have all cut into the ability of its members to complete their mandatory school work.

“It’s the same situation as [youth climate activist] Greta [Thunberg]: Greta skipped school every Friday to have a strike,” Aquino said. “Why does she have to compromise her education to make a change? Why are we compromising our GPAs — our futures — because we’re acknowledging the fact that this is just as important, if not more important, than what we’re doing in school?”

“All this isn’t meant to blame U of T,” Aquino clarified. “We have a joint responsibility with them and we want to work with them.”

The university has since created a Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health in March 2019, which has released a report with recommendations for change. These are in the process of being implemented by the university.

However, Aquino quickly realized someone needed to take responsibility to ignite that conversation among students. She realized that it was up to her to take it a step further.

FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

The evening of September 28, 2019 was chilly; a layer of clouds hung low over the city. In a few hours, Daniel Caesar was set to take the stage at the Budweiser Centre for a sold-out show on his Case Study 01 tour. Aquino was in her Scarborough bedroom, preparing to head downtown to see him. But then she went online and saw the news: someone had shared a CBC News post on Facebook. Another student had died by suicide in the Bahen Centre the day before.

For Aquino, there was something unsettlingly familiar about the series of student deaths at U of T — four in less than two years. Even though it was across a prolonged period of time, the situation at U of T mirrored her own experiences back home. Later at the concert, she couldn’t help thinking of the month when four students in Winnipeg, including Labossiere, passed away.

“I just remember being so cheesed the whole night… [that] the university couldn’t just create this change on its own and identify the issue on its own. So now us students, we’re having to take time out of the time that we’re using to study… We have to create the systemic change that [the university is] basically either ignoring or not acknowledging or just incapable of identifying.”

“And so I guess that that was a little bit of the frustration, like, ‘holy shit, I really have to do this again. Come on.’ ” In that first moment of anger and exhaustion, Aquino posted an Instagram story: a call to action, for anyone else who was as frustrated as she was. She pressed send. The message was out.

At that time, Selvakumaran was in her bedroom as well, scrolling through posts about the suicide. She had just shared a poem she had written on the topic. “Immediately after, I saw [Aquino’s] story and it seemed… like I was meant to see it,” Selvakumaran recounted. “She said, ‘I’m looking to form a new movement. Any student member of the University of Toronto who is as angry at the system as I am, please join me.’ ”

Aquino started a group chat, and within half an hour it filled to capacity with fellow students, recounted Selvakumaran. People who barely knew each other coalesced around this new charge. Selvakumaran and Aquino had previously met only once at a United Way photoshoot featuring local women changemakers. Aquino played basketball with a fellow UTSC student member, and she had met another one at WE Day.

Apart from them, Aquino wasn’t acquainted with anyone else who reached out. From there, things moved fast: the group put an Instagram page together, and individual members posted calls to action on their personal social media accounts. Selvakumaran reflected how the next morning, the U of Thrive Instagram had nearly a thousand followers, and CBC reached out to request an interview.

“The most specific thing I remember in that 24 hours was how amazed I was to see the passion that really bonded students together… I am a firm believer that passion is the instigator of purpose,” Selvakumaran said.

“I think it was a bit overwhelming for all members at first,” she admitted.

“24 students formed new ‘UofThrive’ advocacy group in 24 hours”: this was what the CBC subheading read when the article broke. It was a snappy and attractive statement, but the reality was more complicated. Initially, “around 30-something people DM’d me,” Aquino recalled. Twenty-four of them would go on to plan the group’s first event. Since then, the number of active executive members has dwindled to around 10. Even still, the group has sustained their momentum.

FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

On October 10, 2019, the night of their first event, Aquino remembers gathering her team at Robarts Library and handing them clipboards a mere half hour before the event was set to begin. “It felt like deja vu,” she recalled. She had run a series of four mental health awareness events in grade 10 throughout Manitoba. This one, although miles away and years later, felt all too similar.

“Thrive” took place at Hart House, and it coincided with World Mental Health Day. “We formed [U of Thrive] with the intention to just have this one event,” Aquino said. But the night was a hit, and then she realized how hungry students were to share their stories.

“We decided maybe this is something we should do more often,” she said.

So they did. “Welcome to ‘I Will,’ ” read the slide projected at the front of Innis Town Hall several months later, on February 10. I sat there that night and watched the dimly lit room fill slowly, from front to back. At 7:20 pm, Aquino and fellow U of Thrive member Mohammed Ali stepped into a pool of white light at the front of the auditorium and introduced themselves. They read out a schedule of speakers and performers, and then they took their seats.

In the next hour, one by one, students — some whom I recognized, most of whom I did not — took the stage. They shared stories of abuse, bullying, and grief — of finding themselves again and falling in love. Some sang songs, some simply got up and spoke.

After most of the speakers had finished, Aquino took the stage to remember Labossiere. She talked about how they were both alike and different — he loved getting in trouble; she hated getting in trouble. He wasn’t very booksmart, and she wasn’t either, but they both wanted to be.

Labossiere was 18 when he died. This year, it will have been five years since he passed away, and Aquino still remembers the moment she found out about his death with aching clarity. She said that her old basketball coach texted her, and he asked if she had heard from Labossiere recently. When she said she hadn’t, though she had been with him yesterday, her coach told her that Labossiere had died by suicide.

She said that she remembered sitting there on the couch for the next day. She played back the last moment she had with him. The day before Labossiere had passed away, they were walking out of school together. He was on one side of the road, and she was on the other side. He called her name, and she asked him what he wanted.

They had been fighting for months. He asked if they could talk; she told him she was tired and had to catch the bus, but she’d see him tomorrow. She remembered him asking, “Are you not gonna come cross the street and give me a hug?” She told him she’d give him one tomorrow, and left to catch her bus. A week later, she was standing next to his open casket delivering his eulogy.

She told stories about him to a room full of people who loved him. What she wished most was that he was there to see it.

When she dropped by Labossiere’s house one more time, his parents let her keep a shirt of his. She said that not a day that goes by where she doesn’t think about him.

Aquino’s main goal in this world is to help just one person. To her, when you save one person, you save everyone who loves them. And everybody has a village of people who love them, whether they know it or not.

That night, I watched as students came together to share stories that were heavy and heartbreaking, but also hopeful. I saw a microcosm of what the U of T community could be, if drawn out of its shell.

It humbled me.

­—

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566

Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454

Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600

Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200

U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

Talking about wanting to die

Looking for a way to kill oneself

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly

Sleeping too little or too much

Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Mindfest

An annual mental health fair, Mindfest raises awareness and battles stigma by encouraging discussions about mental illness. This year’s event focuses on mental health for students and young people. Speakers will include mental health experts, peer mentors, and individuals with lived experience. Workshops will offer attendees opportunities to engage in self-care activities such as yoga and guided meditation. Our exhibitor fair gives attendees an opportunity to explore the support and advocacy organizations that exist on and off campus.

Free event, no registration is necessary.

A free pizza lunch will be provided for attendees.

Location:

Hart House

7 Hart House Cir

Date and Time:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

9:30 AM – 4:30 PM

Website:

www.mindfest.ca

Administration addresses student concerns at UTMSU mental health town hall

Revamping syllabi, scrapping sick notes among possibilities discussed

Administration addresses  student concerns at  UTMSU mental health town hall

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) invited students and panelists to have a conversation around mental health on campus last week, sparking discussion on classroom policies that negatively affect student mental health.

UTM Assistant Dean, Student Wellness, Support & Success Andrea Carter started the conversation by detailing her team’s efforts to provide mental health resources to students.

“We implement a step model of care which identifies chronic, immediate, urgent, and non-urgent needs for care, and engages in the appropriate next level options,” said Carter.

Her team’s goal, she said, is to simplify care through services such as a multilingual after-hours program through U of T’s recently released My Student Support Program service for free text and call support. Text service is offered through the app in six languages — English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, and Korean. If scheduled in advance, call service is offered in 146 languages and immediate call service is available in 35 languages.

The move toward equitable classroom policies

As the panel progressed, the conversation in the room shifted away from the mental health resources UTM offers its students and moved toward classroom policies that some students reported were detrimental to their mental well-being.

Fiona Rawle, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and UTM Assistant Dean of Students, said that she has been in talks with various departments and professors to determine stress points, and how course policies can be adjusted accordingly.

“There’s one thing in particular where I see I can help address mental illness. And that’s in the teaching and learning collaboration,” she said. “This is how faculty and instructors get trained on how to teach effectively, have effective assignments, active learning classrooms and whatnot.”

Later in the semester, UTM students will be able to fill out a survey so that Rawle and her team can gauge what kinds of changes would be helpful to students. So far, her team’s data indicates that students who request exceptions to course policies often come from privileged backgrounds.

“If you’re granting exceptions, you can be reinforcing that privilege,” she said. “And I think a lot of professors might not be aware of this.” She also noted that there is research showing that male students are more likely to ask for and be granted grade changes.

Rawle and her team’s work aims to address these classroom policies to make them more equitable for students from all backgrounds. She also acknowledged that UTM is a commuter campus with its own particular challenges, and said that there is an ongoing discussion surrounding office hours, and whether to provide online office hours for students unable to remain on campus.

Revamping the syllabus

“Have professors ever said to you ‘that’s on the syllabus’ if you ask a question?” asked Rawle to the students in the town hall. Most answered in the affirmative.

Rawle explained that research suggests “students will often ask a question that’s on the syllabus, because it’s safe territory. They might not know how to start talking to their professor.”

Her team also hopes to implement various changes to syllabi, including using a less aggressive tone of writing and listing alternative assignments. One such example, said Rawle, is to offer students the option of filming and submitting a presentation versus presenting in front of a class.

Self-reported illness forms

Rawle and the UTMSU also discussed changes to the current sick note policy, potentially modelling a new system after UTSC reported “positive results” when it implemented self-reported sick notes in 2018–2019.

Currently, students are required to submit a Verification of Student Illness or Injury form to receive academic considerations on the basis of their illness or injury. The form requires a signature from a licensed health practitioner, such as a nurse, nurse practitioner, physician, or surgeon.

Students expressed concerns that some clinics charge a processing fee to complete the forms, and that this burden could be even greater for international students who do not have provincial health coverage.

The self-reported illness forms were first introduced during a UTM Campus Council meeting last May. At the time, Professor Amrita Daniere noted that the self-declared illness form would allow students to submit incomplete coursework for up to three consecutive days without worrying about providing official documentation, and that the form could be used up to two times per semester.

Additionally, Rawle noted that there have been discussions around flexible grading schemes that would eliminate the need for sick notes altogether. In fact, Rawle noted that “there’s a lot of professors who don’t want [sick] notes at all.” 

She offered an example of what a flexible grading scheme could look like: “If you have a reading assignment due every weekend, why not just take the best eight of 12 and not worry about [sick] notes?”

Her goal, she said, is to “give all the professors the same background knowledge so they understand what the options are [on setting the grading scheme].”

“There is no University of Toronto policy saying the late penalty has to be this, or even saying that you have to have a late penalty,” Rawle said. “Some departments have policies and some professors have their own policy.”

Carter also acknowledged how inaccessible the landing webpages of services at UTM are. “I Google everything that I need to find related to UTM because the web presence is difficult,” said Carter. “So we’re working on that.”

The power of a tweet: how DeMar DeRozan changed the game

U of T professor praises former Raptors player for his openness on mental health

The power of a tweet: how DeMar DeRozan changed the game

In the early morning of February 17, 2018, former Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan posted a short but impactful tweet: “This depression get the best of me…”

Those seven words caused a storm in the sports and psychology realms alike. So much so that U of T Faculty of Medicine Associate Professor of Psychiatry Mark Sinyor felt moved to write an op-ed about it for the Toronto Star.

In the article, Sinyor explained how Derozan’s willingness to share his struggle with depression has allowed for a conversation about mental health both in and out of sport to develop. He told the Star that, especially for young male fans, who make up a large portion of the NBA’s viewer base, mental health issues are often seen as a chink in the armour, or a sign of failure.

“It’s a constant battle because illnesses like depression make sufferers feel hopeless and many, especially men, still have the tragic impression that seeking help is weak or even shameful,” he wrote. By opening up, even with a simple tweet, DeRozan proved to fans and fellow players alike that you could be a four-time NBA All-Star, two-time All-NBA Team member, and an Olympian, and still struggle with mental health issues like depression. These struggles aren’t indicative of failure, but rather, they are a challenge worth overcoming.

Sinyor wrote that he is sure that DeRozan’s story impacted many, especially young male fans, who are susceptible to burying mental health struggles and worsening them as a result. “They saw it and said to themselves, ‘DeMar is fighting this and winning… Maybe I can too.’”

In an email to The Varsity, Sinyor explained that “the reason that efforts to decrease stigma are so important in sport is because [they reach] such a wide audience and, in the case of men’s basketball, an audience of men that is often socialized not to talk about their feelings.”

This is what inspired him to write the piece. In his own experience as a psychiatrist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, he “heard echoes of the voices in [his] office” in DeRozan’s divulsion. Also an academic, Sinyor devotes most of his expertise to “spreading messages of resilience because research shows that resilience is actually contagious.” DeRozan’s simple tweet was a clear message of resilience, resounding across the NBA and leading to an explosion of solidarity.

Enthusiastic to keep DeRozan’s momentum going, Sinyor expressed that “my hope is that efforts by DeRozan and people like him will make it easier for everyone to speak up about their mental health struggles and to reach out for help when needed.”

The prevalence of the mental health conversation in professional sports seems to be increasing, and athletes are likely to keep moving the conversation forward as these issues continue to come to light.

Mental health apps are a booming business despite scientific and privacy concerns

Lack of regulation in the marketplace could lead to data breaches and false marketing

Mental health apps are a booming business despite scientific and privacy concerns

In the age of wellness and self-care, apps that claim to improve mental health are proliferating in app stores.

Health apps, including apps that address mental health, were valued at eight billion USD in 2018. This growing market is expected to be valued at around 111 billion USD by 2025.

However, research is still needed to validate some of these apps’ promises with scientific evidence, particularly as privacy breaches could pose a risk.

On the one hand, medical devices undergo stringent testing. For example, Apple spent years working to meet the Food and Drug Administration’s standards to be recognized as such before releasing certain features of its Apple Watch. Since then, there have been reported cases of the watch detecting irregular heartbeats and even saving someone’s life.

But mental health apps are not necessarily held to the same standards as traditional health devices.

Are mental health apps rooted in science?

In a 2019 review, researchers used topics like depression, self-harm, substance use, anxiety, and schizophrenia to find apps in both the Apple and Android app stores. The researchers found that of the 73 apps they analyzed, over 60 per cent claimed to be able to diagnose mental health conditions or improve symptoms.

But unlike medical devices, apps claiming to diagnose and manage mental health do not require government approval, and do not undergo years of testing. The same review reported that many such apps had little scientific backing and might even be using scientific jargon to mislead consumers.

Dr. Andrea Levinson, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at U of T, has found that her patients will tell her about the mental health apps that they are using or that they have found to be helpful. When interacting with patients, Levinson might recommend an app in conjunction with clinical care if the patient finds it helpful in managing their symptoms.

In an interview with The Varsity, Levinson explained that in a session with a patient, she may review how an app has been used, ask about their experience using it, and go over the generated data with them.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists recommended apps based on several criteria, including scientific backing. Out of the 19 apps that the website has reviewed, most were backed by little to no research evidence.

“The question is not to dismiss [mental health apps], not to say [that they’re] good or bad, but to really use evidence-based evaluation to determine the efficacy of these apps, [their] safety, [and] issues around privacy,” said Levinson.

Mental health apps spark privacy concerns

While regulation of health apps may create a standardized approval system, the current market remains unregulated, and as such, consumers are still vulnerable to having their personal data sold and their privacy breached.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that out of 36 top-ranked apps, including ones that aim to manage symptoms of depression, 29 shared data with third parties. However, only 12 of them disclosed this in their privacy policies.

In fact, one mental health app called Moodpath shares user data with both Facebook and Google — a fact which they disclose in their    privacy policy.

While not an app, LinkMentalHealth is an online service that connects patients with mental health services that they might not be able to access otherwise.

According to co-founder Radwan Al-Nachawati, LinkMentalHealth was created as a response to long wait times for therapists, which its founders have experienced firsthand.

LinkMentalHealth seeks to streamline schedules between patients and providers, while also recommending therapists based on a short survey, which includes multicultural considerations.

“[You are] able to choose all types of therapists for ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, all those other factors,” said Al-Nachawati in an interview with The Varsity. “That’s a really empowering thing to know.”

Because the website handles sensitive personal information, the startup consulted health privacy lawyers to protect user data, according to Al-Nachawati.

Protecting this information is important “not just from a legal perspective, but from a moral perspective as well,” said Al-Nachawati.

LinkMentalHealth’s website has a privacy policy and terms and conditions for both clients and therapists.

Ultimately, more research is needed to evaluate the claims of mental health apps and keep personal data secure, and users should read privacy policies in full before using such apps.

Editor’s Note (11:52 am, February 8): This article has been updated to correct that LinkMentalHealth does not suggest the burden of keeping personal information secure falls on users.

“Cautiously optimistic”: student groups commend direction of mental health task force report, call for more action

Criticisms of university-mandated leave of absence policy, lack of student representation

“Cautiously optimistic”: student groups commend direction  of mental health task force report, call for more action

Since the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health released its recommendations on how to reform mental health services earlier this month, students groups have been vocal in expressing both support and disapproval of various aspects of the report.

Generally, the aspect of the task force’s report that received the most appreciation from student groups was the acknowledgement of a harmful university culture that does not prioritize student wellbeing. Student representatives remained critical of the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), the removal of which was one of their biggest demands.

The report argued that students’ opinions about the policy were driven by misinformation, and that the university should keep UMLAP in place while working to counter the misconceptions about it.

The Varsity interviewed several student group representatives to see if the task force met students’ demands.

University of Toronto Students’ Union

Arjun Kaul, Vice-President, Operations for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), wrote to The Varsity, addressing areas of possible improvement for the report.

Kaul criticized the vague language in the report regarding the university’s culture of academic excellence. “I would like to see more specific ways of addressing the problematic nature of ‘academic rigour’ at the university, since this is usually a problem with department-specific solutions,” wrote Kaul. He further advocated for the introduction of “more expansive and efficient ways to make professors and instructors aware of the [problems]” students may face in a difficult academic environment.

He applauded the university’s decision to remove verification of illness forms and replace them with self-declared sick notes, an idea that the task force report found to have universal support. He also commended the task force’s recommendation to create a clearer policy on reporting student deaths by suicide, and informing the public about its methods.

Lastly, Kaul criticized the lack of student representation, one of the ongoing criticisms of the task force: “I know that they could have done this with better student representation.”

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union President Chemi Lhamo criticized the generalized nature of the task force, and a lack of relevant recommendations for the satellite campuses.

Lhamo noted that UTSC has a large population of racialized students, and “close to 70 per cent of students dependent on [Ontario Student Assistance Program],” in an email to The Varsity. “The numbers of student visits to our food centre continues to rise and they disproportionately represent women and international students.”

Lhmao expressed that although she was happy with the direction of the task force, she wants to wait and see how the recommendations are actually implemented.

“This report is a generalized report of the three campuses, however to address the concerns of UTSC students, you need to listen to UTSC students.”

University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union

Atif Abdullah, President of the Mississauga Students’ Union, echoed the same idea, noting that the report “failed to recognize the systems of oppression that play a vital factor in Student Mental Health and the ease of access for those coming from marginalized backgrounds.”

On what the report did well, Abdullah wrote to The Varsity that the administration acknowledged the need for a cultural change at the university to allow students to make mistakes. However, he criticized the report for not addressing concerns about the UMLAP.

“We look forward to continue pushing accessible academic policies; like the Self Assigned Illness Notes and the removal of subscription based services, structural changes like free education, challenging systems of oppression and empowering students to demand better mental health supports,” wrote Abdullah.

Students for Barrier-Free Access

Joshua Grondin, Chair of Students for Barrier-Free Access at U of T and former Vice-President University Affairs for the UTSU, described the new partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) as “terrifying” in a tweet.

He elaborated in an email to The Varsity that for students with mental health concerns, “CAMH also represents the forced hospitalization that we have had to experience, as well as the loss of autonomy that many disabled people have in making their own decisions.”

Grondin also criticized the treatment of UMLAP in the report, writing that, “Students have voiced their concerns at all stages of this policy’s development — we are fully aware of its scope and its applications.”

Mental Health Policy Council

In a response to the task force’s report from student activist Lucinda Qu on behalf of the Mental Health Policy Council (MHPC), she wrote that the MHPC is “cautiously optimistic.” She identified several positive recommendations of the task force, such as more diverse mental health service providers, more training for university staff, and increased case management support.

Its central complaint also centred around UMLAP, and a concern that “many key concerns raised by activists, student groups, and even the Ontario Human Rights Commission remain unaddressed.” Going forward, the MHPC expressed concern that the policies for reviewing UMLAP are not thorough enough, and that students might be under-consulted during review.

The MHPC had previously called for the dissolution of the task force on the grounds that it lacked significant student representation.

Permanent fixtures: what a tattoo can do for you

Now more than ever, the medium is the message

Permanent fixtures: what a tattoo can do for you

Content warning: mentions of self-harm.

“Getting a tattoo is stupid,” my mother always told me. “If you killed someone and the police were trying to find you, it would be so easy!”

At the time, I was too young and wide-eyed to wonder why my mother linked body art to murder. Thankfully, it would later lead to many humorous conversations. However, her words never left me as I ventured into the working world.

Truthfully, there are many downsides to getting inked. While the actual magnitude of tattoo-based employment discrimination has never been confirmed, there is a risk that having tattoos will affect your job prospects. Indeed, when you are struggling to graduate with thousands of dollars in student debt, even a slim chance at unemployment is too great.

My last two jobs would have fired any employee that got new tattoos after they were hired, and considering that I want to pursue a career in law — a conservative, paper-copy profession — tattoos could potentially hurt my future career.

Nonetheless, running down my forearm and tickling my wrist sits a freshly-inked sailboat. If tattoos come with so much stigma and criticism, why would I put so much effort into getting one?

The reason why tattoos are so popular in the first place is because of the stories that they tell. At a young age, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and like many other university students, I have struggled with my mental health.

Within my first undergraduate year, I lost 20 pounds and quickly transitioned from healthy to underweight. My weight loss should have been an obvious indicator that I was overexerting myself, but I didn’t see it that way — strangely, I almost felt proud of it. It indicated to me that I was diligent, so I continued to work full-time while enrolled in full-time studies.

After working until 11:00 pm, I often stumbled home and neglected the dinner my mother prepared for me. Too exhausted to eat, I would tear off my winter coat, fall asleep on the couch, and then wake up at 6:00 am for another day of school and work. Rinse. Repeat.

Meanwhile my mother and I engaged in explosive arguments. She told me to quit and work fewer hours, but I refused. In part, I blamed her for my constant stress. I wanted to live up to my parents’ expectations, and my ambition blinded me from their concern.

While the weight loss was obvious, other symptoms of my self-neglect went unrecognized. The relationships I had with the people around me were deteriorating; I had no sense of community on campus; I often showed up to work sick or unkempt; I regressed into self-harm. Looking back, I was undeniably lonely.

Eventually, I began to volunteer again, and I began to write. I found another job that worked better with my school schedule, and decided to spare myself a few classes. Therapy helped along the way.

Bit by bit, I focused more on myself, although it was not easy. Making healthy choices took tremendous self-control, and with each passing day I feared I would fall back on old habits.

I needed something concrete and something real to keep myself grounded, so I scraped together enough money to finally get a tattoo — something that I had wanted for the past four years. While it was largely symbolic, it finally felt like an act of independence and a step in the right direction.

For many, a sailboat is a symbol of adventure and expedition. For me, it is a lifeline that keeps me from drowning. Some may doubt my decision and worry that I will regret it in the future, but I welcome that when the time comes.

When I am old enough to look at my tattoo and think of the problems it symbolizes as being small, it will mean that I have become stronger — and that is exactly what I hope for.