University might not always be what you see on recruitment brochures – it’s not always smiling students in a garden tossing around a Frisbee; it’s not always a noticeably diverse group posing in front of an iconic and historical building; and it’s certainly not always where one can get a 4.0, hold down multiple internships, and still stay perfectly in shape – both physically and mentally.

While mental health isn’t quite a “sexy” topic, it’s one that I believe needs to be discussed frankly and in conjunction with academics. With the stresses and pressures to constantly be a better student and person, it’s near impossible for someone to get through a hard time without feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and at a loss. Further, when one is overwhelmed with impending decisions about their future – whether it might be graduate or professional school, finding full-time employment, or making the choice to take a year off – it becomes increasingly difficult to manage both school, building a network, and planning for the future.

I speak from experience when I discuss the importance of mental health. I’ve learned that while there are a handful of students that are capable of being successful without feeling the effects of stress and anxiety, this should not be the standard to which others hold themselves. Speaking about mental health should be normalized whereby students should understand that in the case where mental health is impeding one’s ability to succeed, the immediate response should be to seek help and support, instead of simply working harder at school and hiding health issues.

In Peace, Conflict, and Justice, as well as similar disciplines, we are encouraged to be vigilant and to seek solutions for global problems as well as local. With rooms full of students destined to save the world one day, now is the time to place importance on taking care of oneself. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve dealt with anxiety and overwhelming times over my three years at UofT – and I can confidently say that slowly learning to manage this has helped me immensely.

Firstly, one must be able to identify the signs of poor mental health. Decreasing grades, a difficulty concentrating, a lack of excitement for things that were previously ‘fun,’ and an overall extreme feeling of worriedness can be the beginnings of when a student should begin to seek support.

Support systems should be set up – whether you choose to speak to an academic advisor, the health and wellness staff at UofT, or your professors – getting to speak to anyone about next steps is always the most important. It can be hard to reach out at first, but the feeling of getting things off your chest will be a rush of relief on its own.

Most importantly, mental health should be handled at the advice of professionals. Regardless of how you might feel when you walk into that 200-student class even in your third or fourth year, you are never alone. Seek help and support, and understand that despite the anxiety and stress you are dealing with at the moment, it will get better and you should not be ashamed or embarrassed about your own health.