Breaking the Glass Wall


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// Emma Coates

For the few of us who voted in this year’s USC election, this question will be familiar: “Would you like to see student mental health and wellness included as a high priority of Western’s Strategic Plan in perpetuity, potentially at the expense of the funding and support of other priorities?” Receiving 6,136 votes (89.3% of voters), this plebiscite passed with overwhelming support.

Before I start, I’d like to acknowledge the hard working full-time staff and students who work and volunteer at the Wellness Education Centre. I think the resource can do good for students and I won’t use this op-ed to generalize a campus service. My hope is to start a discussion on how we handle mental health on this campus. Is it working, and if not, how can we do better?

The Wellness Education Centre (WEC) is located in the basement of the UCC. It’s defined as “your one stop shop for mental health and wellness resources at Western University.”

Is this really how Western is framing serious mental health issues? For me, language matters. I expect more from a multi-million-dollar school than the description of an individual’s mental health struggles in terms of a shopping experience.

As a person who suffered from serious mental illness in second year, I am sensitive to how Western is choosing to combat mental health and, more seriously, losing lives. For a year, I was one of countless students desperately clinging on to any service I could get, hoping that something could work. WEC was made for students to easily navigate resources on campus; however, it only ever made me feel more uncomfortable.

The physical attributes of the service don’t make sense to me. The WEC may as well be renamed “the glass house of people who need help.” The corner location, right beside the stairs and bookstore, makes the space feel like a display case. Ideally, I would like the stigmatization of mental illness to disappear; however, I think we can all agree that when we’re in crisis mode, we don’t want to tell everyone we know. When I was struggling, I would walk past the room, knowing that I was their target audience, but I could never build up the courage to walk in and ask for help because anyone could see me. At the time, I would’ve been embarrassed if someone saw me waiting in there. There’s a reason why doctors’ and psychiatrists’ offices are set up the way that they are. Discretion is important.

Secondly, I’ve always been uncomfortable with students being at the front desk offering navigation. Although I’ve never been a personal friend of someone who has worked there, they are still my peers who could run in the same social circles as me. While I believe in student empowerment and am happy that students are willing to go through training for this role, I never wanted to out myself to a peer. I always thought to myself, “what if I saw them at a party next week?” or, “what if they told someone else my situation?”  Although this fear came from my own insecurities, my discomfort is still relevant. We shouldn’t need to worry about social relationships when seeking medical attention or financial services; privacy and comfort are important, and utilizing the WEC should not be an exception.

The WEC is also put on a pedestal on campus tours. There are frequently bunches of parents and high school students being shown the “one stop shop.” The space is colourful, new, and flashy. As a university, have we looked at how this space is impacting current students, or is it just a positive talking point for attracting prospective students and their parents?

Coming from a critical theory program, I tend to meticulously analyze each method to our madness. While this may seem absurd, I believe that through critical examination we can adapt and learn to listen to each other a little more. We can always strive to do better.  Especially with Western’s Strategic Plan including a pillar on mental health, we need to ask what exactly this means. As students, we need to start talking.

I truly appreciate the anonymous donor’s contribution to this service. The donation shows kindness and a commitment to ensuring mental well-being for everyone.

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