As a Millennial in university dealing with the pressure of academic deadlines, I’m especially curious about how the social environment can impact the mental health of students.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the highest rate of mental health problems and illnesses in Canada is among young adults aged 20-29, which is why the health care system must look crucially at academic environments.
University and college students seeking mental health services report that anxiety is their top concern. All the stress of due dates, grades, and the upkeep of a social life can lead to poor mental health if not enough resources are provided for students.
To learn more about the relationship between a person’s social environment and their mental health, I spoke with Dr. Trevor Hancock, retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy, who says the social, physical, and cultural environment that we are exposed to—such as poverty, violence, stress, and negativity—impacts the way that we act and grow.
Dr. Hancock says good mental health begins in infancy and childhood, as “a good start in life can create more positive and resilient young people, better able to handle adversity when it occurs.
“We all contribute to the social environment,” Dr. Hancock says, “but it also shapes our behaviour and choices. We must focus on what an individual needs and how they could change their way of life and their behaviour in order for them to live a happy and healthy life.”
When it comes to youth, Dr. Hancock explains that students “are just growing up and being young is stressful, so it is problematic that our youth are often exposed to stress-inducing environments. The younger generation needs more support than ever without being told to ‘toughen up’ and ‘survive’.”
Many schools put great efforts into providing a safe atmosphere for students. But what has the government been doing? I asked Dr. Hancock if he thinks the government is doing enough to address mental health issues in Canada.
“No,” he said, “I do not think they are doing enough. Mental health has been called the orphan of the health care community, so there needs to be more funding towards mental health services.”
“There is a bias against mental illness,” he says, “therefore it is underfunded. Most of our attention is on physical health and diseases, but there needs to be an expansion that pays more attention to mental health services and mental health promotion services.”
Today is Bell Let’s Talk day, whose goal is to create a stigma-free Canada and to raise awareness about mental health care.
Stigma associated with mental illness has proven to negatively impact an individual’s behaviour.
According to The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH): “When a person receives prompt treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use problems, there are much greater hopes for recovery. But stigma can discourage families from seeking care and support for both their loved one and themselves.”
CAMH reports that “the effects of stigma may be even more painful and harmful for families than dealing with the fact that a loved one has mental health problems”, which suggests that the health care system must look at the social factors that create and influence these stigmas.
As an upstream community, we must empower one another to create a healthy and positive atmosphere, where individuals can be themselves and receive the help they need. We need to listen to each other and treat everyone with kindness. That is what a healthy community is.
Victoria Meyer is a student at York University’s Department of Communication Studies who is doing her student placement with Upstream.