In pre-pandemic times, Ken Steele sits down on the Carleton University "Friendship Bench" with president and vice-chancellor (and neuropsychologist) Benoit-Antoine Bacon to talk frankly about his own journey to mental health, and his advice for students.
Mental health has been a significant concern on higher ed campuses for a decade or more. Anxiety and depression have been rising. In Fall 2019, the National College Health Assessment found 39% of students in moderate or serious psychological distress, 49% experiencing loneliness, and 27% reporting consistently high levels of stress for the preceding year. The COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated those feelings of loneliness, stress and distress.
But President Bacon emphasizes that mental health issues are not a new problem, although there’s a growing realization in our society of their prevalence and impact. “It’s really the new generation… that are leading the way. In many ways, we’re following their lead… because the young people are showing courage.”
He has been quite open about his own mental health journey, even at his presidential installation ceremony in 2018 ( https://youtu.be/zI_XuTexdPo ). His father was abusive, and Benoit himself spent 20 years in and out of depression. “I thought it was important to lead from a position of honesty… Talking openly and honestly about mental health issues, their symptoms and their causes, is the first step towards addressing them, both as an individual and as society.” Certainly students at Carleton appreciate their president’s willingness to speak openly about mental wellness.
“You don’t have to be bound by your past… The journey of healing is always continuing, it’s never ever done.” The worst scenario is to be someone who believes they don’t deserve to seek help or speak openly about the healing they need. “A live lived in trauma, by yourself, is a desperate life that you don’t want to live.”
Mental illness has multiple causes, genetic and epigenetic, and it doesn’t matter what form of trauma a person experiences, the issue is the self-perceptions and habits of thought that hold them back. “If you’re raised in a way that you’re worthless and that the world is dangerous, you’ll never have a fun day, ever!” People need to retrain their minds to perceive reality differently: “The world is both beautiful AND dangerous… We have more control than we think about whether the world is perceived as beautiful or dangerous.”
This part 1 of a series on mental health at Carleton. We’ll be back soon with:
- Suzanne Blanchard, VP Students & Enrolment, on Carleton’s holistic approach to mental wellness
- Rebecca Drodge, a recent graduate, on Carleton’s peer wellness programs
- Shannon Noonan, Special Projects Officer for Student Mental Health Engagement and Pet Therapy, about Carleton’s impressive therapy dog programs
Stay tuned! Or to be sure you don’t miss them, take a moment to subscribe, here or by email at http://eduvation.ca/subscribe/
A special thank-you again to Benoit, Suzanne, Rebecca, Shannon, and the Carleton University videographers who made this possible!