By Marleen Koch, UTS Social Worker
Promoting mental health at UTS continues to be something we take seriously and it is important to many in our community. Last week, the students and staff of the UTS Positive Mental Health Committee did a fine job of organizing a panel discussion that helped to shine a spotlight on this issue.
The panel was comprised of students and staff, each of whom brought their own personal and family stories of navigating mental illness. They shared personal experiences that were honest and touching, and that offered valuable suggestions and insights into addressing mental illness as individuals, families, and in our school community.
Some common themes emerged that were interesting points of reflection for all of us. Panelists talked about both the power of support from those around them as well as the hurt of rejection when people close to them are dismissive of what they are dealing with. They noted that people who are experiencing a mental health problem do not always share what is happening to them. Consequently we should not be too quick to make assumptions about someone when they may be struggling with more than we know.
Addressing the topic of protecting personal mental health, the panelists highlighted the importance of protecting one's own time and resources, and making one's own health and wellness a priority. One panelist explained how she sets aside time for an activity that she knows is good for her and does not give up that time – even if there are conflicting demands. Another panelist noted the importance of sleep. She explained that she prioritizes her work and is willing to let lower priority tasks go in order to get enough rest.
Panelists all agreed on the importance of seeking professional help, even if others are telling you that you should just deal with the situation on your own. They highlighted professional help as a way to heal and develop, and not a sign of weakness. Students on the panel noted the work of the UTS guidance team, and the care and support they felt when accessing those resources.
Everyone agreed that school and learning is not just about marks: sometimes it is better not to talk about or compare marks with others, even if your grades are very good. Instead, it may be more helpful to focus on other areas of your relationships with classmates. A teacher on the panel noted that she puts marks on the back page of an assignment so that results are discreet and students do not have to share or compare with peers if they don’t wish to.
The panelists were very open and very realistic. Their vulnerability and wisdom was appreciated by everyone who attended. Their contributions helped to broach a topic of significance to everyone in a personal and relatable way.