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Bridging The Gap
The Season to Be Stressful
  Monday 19 December, 2016
The Season to Be Stressful

MONTREAL — Red Bull? Check. Late-night delivery on speed dial? Check. Pringles? Check.

You would think that after three semesters of college, I’d have learned my lesson. No more skipping classes to catch up on missed assignments before finals, pulling all-nighters before an exam, or relying on junk food for sustenance as I burn the midnight oil.

“This won’t happen again,” I remember telling myself last semester after suffering nausea and a recurring shortness of breath during finals week. Yet here I am working too hard and sleeping too little, despite my resolutions to be more organized and take better care of myself.

Friends have told me that this is typical for students at McGill, where competition is fierce and final exams can count up to 75 percent of a course’s grade. Libraries are jam-packed with students carrying caffeinated beverages, with the more than occasional napper. Even the Christmas decorations and colorful lights all over campus can’t dispel a palpable atmosphere of anxiety.

Finals season has always been stressful for me. But it’s particularly difficult for those who deal with depression and anxiety, which turns out to be a growing number of college students. I know that my problems may seem minor to those who suffer from clinical depression or suicidal thoughts, but my personal battle with anxiety has reshaped my views toward mental health.

As a product of Hong Kong’s cutthroat education system, I used to share the belief that concerns about mental health were just an excuse to get out of school work. I’ve ridiculed friends who would ask for exam deferments or homework extensions, siding with those who argue that my generation is coddled by overprotective parents.
But my experiences at college have taught me that mental illness is rarely black and white. Sadly, much of the recent spotlight on safe spaces and trigger warnings has attempted to sort us into broad stereotypes. I don’t think we should demonize an entire generation as reliant and narcissistic. We should instead celebrate a generation that is coming to realize the importance of initiating conversations about our mental health.

Indeed, McGill’s Mental Health Services has seen a 35 percent increase in student consultations over the last five years, which translates to one in every 10 students visiting the clinic in the past year. During the first three weeks of December last year, the number of appointments increased by a third.

And while more students are actively seeking help, we still need to have a serious dialogue about stigma surrounding mental health. Too often we use adjectives such as “crazy,” “psycho” and “wacko” to describe the mentally ill, mindlessly casting those suffering as dangerous and abnormal. When 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in a given year, we should not deny them the respect and dignity they deserve.

If dropping in during a professor’s office hours is not seen as a weakness, speaking with a counselor or psychiatrist shouldn’t qualify either. In fact, talking about your pain isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather an indication of maturity and knowing your limits.

I used to tell myself that it would be all right to sacrifice my mental well-being for some long-term gratification. In high school, all I thought about was getting into an Ivy League, shoving aside the need to care for my mental and physical health. At McGill, I see myself repeating the same mistakes, as I’ve become obsessed with acing the final to pave my way into a competitive graduate program.

I know that I will continue to be ambitious. But I’m not so sure whether the A on my transcript will be worth it if I can’t protect my mental well-being at the same time.

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