I don’t have many complaints about my host campus in Canada. It’s been great so far. People open doors for each other, classes are straightforward lectures. I really enjoy it.
Besides the fact that I don’t like their policy when it comes to excused absences for “sickness.” While I completely understand that it’s something that can easily be misused when students feign being sick to skip some class, in other cases, it’s not practical.
Attendance is up to the professors, which they are usually very kind about observing, especially in regards to scary weather conditions. But the only way to TRULY count yourself as “sick” is if you have a doctor’s note.
First off, I avoid the doctor at all costs. That mentality probably stems from my hometown’s measly operation that credited my anorexia as an “electrolyte imbalance.” Yeah, still bitter about that. I have even written in the past about some medical professionals’ lack of acknowledgement of mental illness and all that it entails. The mind has extraordinary effects on us. Our mindset directly effects everything else going on in our bodies. Symptoms like digestive problems, trouble sleeping, headaches/migraines, chronic aches and pains, really anything, can come back to mental illness if you’re prone to it. But that isn’t the first prognosis a doctor would give you if you came in with physical symptoms. They’d be looking for a physical illness as the root cause.
I am a very healthy person. So when I don’t feel well, it’s often as a result of mental illness. In where again lies a problem with healthcare and mental illness. Never have I heard or seen a doctor write a note in the midst of mental illness, not unless it involves extreme physical repercussions like anorexia maybe. Besides that, it’s difficult for doctors to give someone slack for just being depressed or anxious. If you can’t see it, then you can just “toughen up and get through.”
I’ve come to the realization that I can no longer pretend to be okay when I’m not, at least not to the extent that I used to. My entire high school career was a blur of absentminded pain whilst playing it off as nothing. Putting on a mask to disguise the hamster wheel inside my head whirling around worries and paranoia. It was easy to ignore the hunger vibrating in my gut when I had piles of schoolwork to focus on.
The school system both cultivates and ignores mental illness. My life has always seemed to be ruled by arbitrary letters and numbers as an indication of my achievements. Perfectionism thrives off of scales, whether they measure weight or test scores. Even as my semester is mainly consisted of lectures, the fact that only two or so major tests will determine my performance freak me out. They’re sitting in a dark corner, just waiting to strike. I still have a few weeks before I even tackle those, and I’m already nervous.
In classrooms and doctors’ offices, we are equipped with the tools and knowledge to keep us healthy…physically. Only a fraction of our health relies on our physical well-being, and even that is heavily dependent on our other areas of wellness. When one is not synchronized, the others suffer. But that isn’t a situation you’d think of going to a doctor to write you a note saying you just need a break.
I cannot even imagine a teacher saying that somebody was absent because they were depressed that day, or too anxious to move or think. We’re expected to just keep going on with life as if nothing is wrong. But brushing off the severity of mental illness only makes it worse. That mentality teaches us to suppress our problems. The symptoms aren’t contagious, so teachers don’t warn us to stay home or else other students will inhale the germs.
In this situation, changing things is a collective effort required from all parties involved. At the doctor’s office, in school, we make mental health transparent. We foster environments that do not shame us for the days we struggle with normal functioning, as many as 20% of the population struggling, a fraction of people we cannot ignore. We ensure teachers are understanding if a student isn’t about to get out of bed to sit in a doctor’s office to write a note to send to the teacher, a process which when writing it out is overly complicated, in my opinion.
Last week, my campus had a table set up each day to discuss mental health, a great step in the right direction. But we spend so much time talking and little time taking action, implementing our words into everyday life, only dedicating a week or day to remembering its importance, when we should be making the effort every chance we get to fighting the stigma. This might mean examining everything we see as normal protocol and suggesting change, certainly not an easy task, but one that is necessary.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie