Resiliency, Stigmatization, and Accommodations
by Catherine Jenkins
Students with mental health concerns, or who are neurodiverse, can apply to receive accommodations throughout school. Accommodations are provided to level the playing field, so the student who requires information to be delivered in a different way, or who requires additional time to complete an assignment or test, can have an experience similar to their classmates. These services are available through Academic Accommodation Support – Ryerson University. Requests for accommodations must be professionally assessed and substantiated. Accommodations Facilitators support instructors with advice on how best to accommodate an individual student. When an instructor receives an accommodation letter, the student’s privacy must always be respected. It is never appropriate to ask the student for an explanation of why the accommodation is required, or to discuss their accommodation with others.
While receiving an accommodation may sound simple, it isn’t. Both University and community mental health services are overburdened, often meaning long waitlists and increased potential for harm. Our students are generally young adults, with limited life experience, which may make it more difficult for them to define their own mental wellness. A student’s family or cultural context may cause shame or stigmatization around mental health issues, making it challenging for a student to admit to themselves and especially to others that they need support. First-year students who were provided accommodations in high school, may wish to shed that perceived label when entering university. Due to their sense of stigmatization, some students may be reluctant to ask for help or share their accommodation requirements with instructors. Additionally, some students find that their accommodations may not be respected by all instructors, and they may not be extended into professional internships or work contexts.
The ThriveRU – Ryerson University program, created by Dr. Diana Brecher, offers a guide to help support student resiliency. This wellness guide includes exercises for nurturing gratitude and a positive attitude, learning perseverance, and maintaining a supportive community. While these are good life skills to learn and maintain, students often have a sense that between school, commuting, and work, there simply isn’t time for meditation as well. Some students received resiliency training from their elementary or high school teachers, and although the reminder is helpful, resiliency skills may not seem adequate in the face of end-of-term stresses.
As young adults, our students don’t always know their own limitations. While resiliency training is certainly worthwhile, it centres the problem and responsibility on students, without critically investigating the role the institution plays in creating and adding to the mental health burden. Being a young adult who may have a full course load (or more), a one-or-two-hour commute to campus, work one or more part-time jobs (or even a fulltime job) to pay tuition, and perhaps also have family pressures and obligations, is a heavy burden. While stressing about their GPAs, students are also encouraged to develop their personal brand, taking on additional volunteering to enhance their resumes and improve their chances of gaining employment upon graduation. With these combined stresses, cracks can appear, leading to mental health crises, poor academic performance, and the potential for developing unhealthy coping strategies.
Annabelle Torsein, Clinical Psychologist Resident, PhD Candidate
The University’s Counselling – Student Wellbeing – Ryerson University services are overburdened. Although the budget and number of counsellors available has increased over the years, the service simply can’t keep up with the increasing demand, and are only available short-term support. In a bid to support more students, peer support and group counselling are now offered for more common problems, such as anxiety and academic issues. When these services are stretched, as commonly happens towards the end of term, family physicians or walk-in clinics may be more readily able to help individual students.
Beyond campus, a variety of community supports are also accessible to students. Although some hotlines and services offer support for specific communities or issues, the more general recommendations include Kids Help Phone (for students under 20) and Good2Talk. St. Michael’s Hospital is close to campus (36 Queen St. E. at Church), and offers mobile crisis intervention via 911. Also downtown, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has an emergency department at 250 College St., just east of Spadina.