Watching friends struggle with stress, family problems and mental illness without anyone to talk to led Faraz Honarvar to get involved with U of T student clubs focused on mental health.
Karen Young, a psychology and health studies student at U of T Scarborough, started Minds Matter Magazine devoted solely to mental health issues because she saw a real need out there for not only students, but also faculty, staff and alumni.
With a growing focus on mental health research as well as services across the university, there are many supports for students who may be dealing with what may feel like insurmountable challenges.
Students can access counselling services across all three campuses: on the downtown Toronto campus at the Health & Wellness Centre in the Koffler Student Services Centre; at U of T Scarborough's Health & Wellness Centre and at U of T Mississauga's Health & Counselling Centre.
Along with these centres, many faculties host their own programs. The Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education launched the Mental Health and Physical Activity Research Centre (MPARC), which is dedicated to the promotion of mental health through exercise.
The Student Voice Project, which is open to all U of T students, is one of many programs on all three campuses devoted to mental health awareness. Grad students have developed strategies to boost mental health. And, last December Trinity alumna Dr. Anne Steacy donated $1.5 to establish the Anne Steacy Counselling Initiative as part of the Trinity College health service.
“There is a lot of support at U of T,” says Janine Robb, executive director of U of T's downtown Toronto Health & Wellness Centre. “You just need to ask.”
She says across the university there are people trained in identifying students at risk and referring them to the right resources.
“Once students start talking about the trouble that they’re having, they realize they’re not alone,” Robb says. “That is a critical part. Things can happen. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.”
For those uncomfortable talking about their issues with an adult, often student-run resources can be a first step.
Minds Matter Magazine has been able to publish articles on the magazine’s website, including providing a roadmap to help students navigate services and programs at U of T Scarborough. They come out with their second e-issue on arts and media next month.
Honarvar, who is starting his first year in a Master’s program, is now president of U of T’s chapter of the Blu Matter Project. The group has organized yoga classes, talks by U of T profs and set up mental health awareness booths.
“We’re tackling issues that students are directly dealing with, which could be a starting point for many students,” Honarvar said. “The university is a huge place and for many first and second years, they may feel like a needle in the haystack. You may not be able to open up to others when you have problems. I think we provide a unique perspective on what needs to be done to provide resources for our fellow students. We can be there to provide guidance and to allow people to open up and share their problems.”
After an event last school year with a U of T prof, a student approached Honarvar.
“He said the talk was so powerful that he finally had found some hope and guidance after many months of dealing with suicidal thoughts,” Honarvar said. “That’s what motivates me to continue leading this club.”