Let’s Talk “Mental Health in Academia”

Dana Alsaialy
Dana Alsaialy
4 April 2023

With warmer weather, brighter skies, & flowers blooming, Spring is finally creeping up on what felt like a never-ending Winter. More importantly, for me, at least, this is where I begin depending on seasonal changes to cure my mental health struggles. Now, I know what some of you may think — “Oh great, another lecture about how we need to take care of ourselves,” or “You should just go to therapy or buy a self-help book!” While these options may resonate with some, many students are tired of hearing vague messages on mental health matters while things don’t seem to improve. Perhaps our universities & institutions are becoming aware, but there is still a long way to go. As a STUDY IN Ambassador, I have no professional say in the matter, but I do have a voice & a message I would like to spread from one student’s perspective.

Let us begin with the facts. Whether we realize it or not, mental health struggles have almost become a standard in university life. Between courses, exams, & side hustles, it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in responsibilities — that’s not even counting personal problems that conveniently come at a point where you feel like you can’t handle anything anymore. We are told to sacrifice one of these three things: Enough sleep, social life, or good grades. I think I sacrifice two, “enough sleep” & “social life,” to get even better grades. As a self-proclaimed “study-holic,” I have reached a point where having no assignments to complete gives me anxiety — I need to be working on something, maximizing my output, & producing optimal results. If I tell someone I am struggling with my mental health due to academic burnout, I get told to slow down, take a break, & prioritize my health. Being me, the notion of under-doing my past self is terrifying, but let’s say I take this advice. What is the ultimate goal?

Not to be pessimistic, but sometimes we are only encouraged to take care of ourselves to rebuild strength for further productivity — that is, we rest only to work. It is a cycle that, once you become aware of it, you cannot unsee & it puts you in some existential dread. Sometimes, I also feel pathetic for even struggling — I am a student, have friends, & can be part of a great community, yet something is missing. The worst thing about all of this is that no matter how much I advocate mental health awareness, I know my struggles, & know my blessings. It can be challenging to pinpoint the problem, how to practice gratitude, & whether I should do something about it. Indeed, I do not have the answers, but even questions are a step forward in my books. In other words, I have accepted a problem exists.

In my 20 years of living, I know we will often reach what feels like rock bottom. Just think of the last time you thought, “this is it. It could not get worse before it got worse, & yet you still are here today. We are all stronger than we think, & we need to trust the process. Another thing I mentioned is acceptance. Yes, it seems like everyone nowadays has mental health struggles & it can feel inconvenient to complete daily tasks — sometimes, things are “trendy” for a reason & it is essential to take the time to self-reflect when possible. I will be working on appreciating what I do have & living in the present moment. My life is a mosaic of diverse, colourful pieces that make up who I am — I am not just a student, a sister, or a citizen, but a dynamic & ever-changing human being with experiences.

I do not have the answers yet, I do not know what will happen, nor can I speak on behalf of everyone. I also don’t believe that we need to end everything on a positive note at the cost of honesty. Honestly, I am struggling right now; however, I am dedicated to not brushing it under the rug this time. I have been a machine from secondary school to university, working towards a successful future. I still am this machine, but I am starting to become slower, & that frustrates me. That is my sign to take a step aside & balance my life in a way where I can make time for things other than academia — & no, I am not hoping to heal so I can get back to the grind. I wish I reach a point where being productive or not gives me different yet equal forms of joy & satisfaction.