Breaking the silence

Overcoming mental health struggles in the shadows of stigma.

*Trigger warning: suicide.*

I’m alive. 

That was my first bewildered thought in the aftermath of my suicide attempt. Today, I peel back the layers of secrecy to share one of the darkest chapters of my life, not as a tale of despair, but as a beacon of resilience and transformation. My journey from the brink of death to survival is not just my story—it is a testament to the critical importance of seeking help for mental health struggles, especially amidst the suffocating grasp of societal stigma.

For years, I masked my pain behind a facade of normalcy, mastering the art of deception. Each day was a balancing act between the desperate yearning for peace and the flickering ember of hope that urged me to hold on. But after nearly a decade of silent suffering, that ember of hope was finally extinguished. I had exhausted every ounce of strength, every glimmer of resilience, leaving behind a hollow shell of despair.

The weight of my mental anguish was compounded by the paralyzing fear of societal judgment. I was gripped by the insidious notion that seeking help would only burden others or worse, brand me as a social pariah. This fear kept me shackled in silence, imprisoned in a labyrinth of despair with no escape in sight.

As a young adult navigating academia, the pressure to excel only added fuel to my inner turmoil. Each day was a relentless cycle of academic rigor and emotional turmoil, with no respite in sight. The weight of expectations bore down upon me like a heavy yoke, crushing my spirit.

But amidst the darkness, a lifeline was extended to me in my hour of need. The wellness program at Concordia University offered a sanctuary of solace, a safe haven. Through mindfulness sessions and counseling services, I found a beacon of light, a guiding hand to lead me out of the abyss.

However, my journey is not just about survival—it is about breaking the silence and challenging the stigma surrounding mental health struggles. For far too long, society has shrouded these issues in secrecy and shame, perpetuating a culture of silence that suffocates those in need of help.

As teenagers and young adults, we are tasked with dismantling the barriers that stand in the way of mental health awareness and support. Initiatives at Concordia University, such as the Zen Dens, wellness programs, mindfulness sessions, and Counseling and Psychological Services, serve as examples of what is possible when we prioritize mental health and well-being.

But our work is far from over. We must actively implement strategies to improve access to mental health resources and support services, both within our schools and communities. One effective approach is to establish dedicated mental health support centers or hotlines staffed by trained professionals who can offer immediate assistance to those in need. Additionally, integrating mental health education into school curriculums can help raise awareness and reduce stigma from a young age.

To my fellow survivors, I say this: You are not alone. Your struggles do not define you. And together, we can break the silence and light the path toward healing and hope.

It is not easy to come forward and share one’s struggles with mental health. The fear of being judged or dismissed can be paralyzing, trapping us in a cycle of silence and shame. But it is precisely this fear that we must confront head-on, for our own sake and that of countless others who may be suffering in silence.

Young adults, in particular, face unique challenges when it comes to mental health. The pressures of academic success, social acceptance, and uncertain futures can weigh heavily on our shoulders, exacerbating existing struggles and making it even harder to reach out for help. Yet, it is crucial that we are taken seriously and that our voices are heard when we speak up about our mental health needs.

Every day, more than 200 people attempt suicide in Canada, a staggering statistic that underscores the urgent need for greater awareness and support for mental health issues. Behind each of these attempts lies a story that deserves to be heard and acknowledged.

As we strive to break the silence surrounding mental health struggles, let us also work to create a more compassionate and understanding society—one where seeking help is seen as a sign of strength rather than weakness, and where no one is left to fight their battles alone. Together, we can pave the way toward a brighter, more hopeful future for all.


Sledding my woes away on the mountain

How I discovered that snow days are good for the soul.

If you know me personally, you’d know I’m not an outdoor girlie. My dad, on the other hand, is the king of the outdoors. Whenever he wants to go for a walk, I always pass. Little did I know, fresh wintery air would do me good—both physically and mentally.

The last couple of months haven’t been the best. I’ve never been one to complain about every single detail in my life, but when things pile up, my anxiety shoots straight through the roof. 

Once 2024 hit, I was excited to start the year off fresh. I was prepared to leave behind all the dark thoughts related to my surgery in 2023. But one week into 2024, my car decided to give me a nice little welcome gift: the “check engine” light. Not only that, but my brakes were squeaking like mad. 

When my boyfriend and I dropped off Jukey (my beloved Nissan) at the mechanic, I was praying that this wasn’t going to cost me more than $500. I was shaking like a leaf as we drove off. 

The following day, the mechanic dropped a big one on me—the whole job would cost me $1,700. My heart fell out of my chest and anger bubbled inside of me. I told the mechanic to go through with the job. I couldn’t afford it, but I had no other choice.

In these scenarios, my anxiety jumps to the worst situations. I started thinking that I wouldn’t be able to save towards my goals for the year. I wouldn’t be moving along how I’d planned. I had a bit of a breakdown.

Luckily, my boyfriend was there to help me get through this time. My anxiety still loomed over my head but at least I had something positive to look forward to: snow tubing with my friends and boyfriend.

I think a bit of fresh air was just what I needed. According to the Ontario Parks website, we should be aiming to move our bodies 20 to 30 minutes per day outdoors during the winter time. By doing so, we’d immediately feel calmer mentally and our blood pressure would go down.

The day of the activity, I was looking forward to a change in scenery and getting some fresh air. We opted to get the full experience package at the mountain near Saint-Sauveur that included an option to bobsled.

Bobsledding for the first time was the most exhilarating thing that I’ve done in a while. I felt like I was in the Olympics, and I’d never felt such an adrenaline rush. I opted for my boyfriend to be the one to push the sled and jump in as we went down. Knowing me, my clumsy self would probably fall to the side or hurt myself.

Going down the mountain at lightning speed, I was so focused on the feeling of being so happy with wintery air gliding against my face. For the couple of hours that we spent at the mountain, I wasn’t focused on my anxiety. I only had positive thoughts and a really good time. I screamed it out, laughed it out, and most importantly, made memories that I’ll cherish for a long time.

If I can recommend anything to anyone going through a tough time right now, this is it. Get outside and get some air—it’ll feed your mind and soul.


But seriously, let’s talk

Bell Let’s Talk campaign points to larger issues in mental health advocacy.

Every year, Bell Let’s Talk Day strikes a chord. As the event on Jan. 24 approaches, I want to talk more about exactly what makes this seemingly well-intentioned campaign a bit unsavoury, and how its nature is indicative of larger issues. 

For context, Bell Let’s Talk was started in 2010 by the telecommunications company Bell Media as the largest mental health initiative in Canada. Though it’s an ongoing campaign, each January is marked by a specific day where their advertising goes full force. I’m sure everyone is familiar with their pledge to donate five cents to mental health programs for every text and social media interaction that includes #BellLetsTalk, and the subsequent flooding of similar messaging—although in 2023, the company announced they would replace this strategy with a $10 M lump sum donation. 

In a sense, the campaign filled an important gap, as few other major companies are so vocally dedicated to the issue of mental health. This advocacy takes the form of four pillars, according to their website: “fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world class research and leading by example in workplace mental health” (which is ironic considering past allegations concerning Bell’s working conditions). Their mission statement in contrast to their actions can be scrutinized, along with their overall mental health advocacy campaign. 

The name itself is problematic to many who have speculated on the corporatization of mental health and the fact that Bell features its own name so boldly. In a 2019 statement, the company claimed that “it put its name on the campaign because no one else would,” as mental health was discussed very little at the time. Still, this is a very effective advertising campaign that ultimately benefits the company, no matter what cause they’re supporting. Maybe I’m biased—personally, I’m skeptical of any major corporation that claims to be doing a good deed—but publicity is still publicity.

The publicity often takes the form of short videos about mental illness coupled with alarming statistics (such as this one, which tackles suicide rates in Canada). Though destigmatizing conversations around mental illness do need a starting point, the videos are a little reductive and sensationalized. The presentation usually includes a shock factor, and the solution is always the same: just reach out. The campaign implies that talking about it is the most difficult step, but fails to acknowledge the systemic issues within mental health programs. Sure, there are resources out there. But how good are they?

Mental health resources are just another part of a broken health care system that is often inaccessible, damaged by bureaucracy and a lack of proper care. From what I’ve witnessed through friends and family members who sought help, the truth is quite jarring; the health care system, particularly in the sector of mental health, can actually be quite cruel. 

People must jump through endless hoops to acquire care, while being condescended by healthcare workers or mental health professionals and being exposed to environments that are not conducive to healing (the state of psychiatric facilities is a topic begging for its own article). These issues are even more prevalent for marginalized communities, with countless examples of injustice and malpractice in the healthcare system. 

It’s ironic that those who need help the most are often dehumanized by systems that claim to be the solution. I can’t help but be disillusioned by the notion of seeking help, and resentful of any campaign that reduces such a complex issue to such a simple solution. This isn’t to disregard the campaign’s message as a whole: talking about mental health is of the utmost importance, and we do have to start somewhere. However, we also need to reflect on societal factors that contribute to mental illness—a broken system is not the solution. 

Issues with mental health advocacy do not begin or end with Bell. Bell Let’s Talk is just one example. The way that mental health is discussed points to the need for a complete reform. Though efforts have been made to destigmatize mental illness and improve access to needed services, this is only the beginning.


Zen Dens introduce new winter projects

The Black Impact series and The Menstrual Equity series are being added to their workshops series.

Concordia’s Zen Dens are back following the well-deserved winter break with new projects and initiatives to be pursued throughout the semester.

Jillian Ritchie, the Zen Dens wellness coordinator, told The Concordian about her latest project, the Menstrual Equity Symposium, which will begin in May. The symposium is one of the two newest projects being launched in Winter 2024. 

Ritchie hopes her passion for open conversations, healing, and taking care of both physical and mental health will make students feel more comfortable within themselves in the long run.  

“I see relief in [the students] because it’s someone telling them we’re not expecting you just to perform and produce—you’re also a human,” said Ritchie. “You’re also not only learning all of these academic things, but also the skills of navigating adulting too.” 

The Zen Dens are starting off the semester with a “Movement to Support your Mental Health” workshop on Jan. 22 and will continue to offer workshops surrounding anxiety management, ADHD, interpersonal relationships, and self-care.

The wellness resource is also welcoming “The Black Impact series” and “The Menstrual Equity series” on their list of workshops. 

The Black Impact Series: 

A seven-part series of online workshops focusing on several topics related to the Black experience, led by Myrlie Marcelin, a wellness counsellor who started the Black Impact series in April 2023. Marcelin began the series in October with a workshop surrounding code switching—the act of altering behaviours and vocabulary depending on our work environment and the people around us—in order to dissect the impact it has on Black students. 

On Jan. 23, the Black Impact series will resume with a workshop focusing on colourism where Marcelin and students will look at “light-skinned Black folks and dark-skinned Black folks, the experiences they may experience interracially and within the black community.” From the perspective of internalized discrimination based on skin colour, Marcelin plans to explore the fear that comes in around not appearing as the typical beauty standard. 

The series will also feature workshops surrounding racial Identity and culture (which will be held with a guest speaker), racial wealth gap, the history of policing in Canada and the U.S, and Black fatigue and trauma. The series will end with a True Allyship workshop in fall 2024. 

“Those types of workshops or conversations can not only be healing, but they allow for [Black students] to feel reassured and know that what [they’ve] experienced is valid and that [they’re] not necessarily crazy or making things up about [their] experience,” said Marcelin.

She hopes that by presenting what she has researched and currently knows and understands based on her own life, she can help create a safe environment for students to share who they are and find peace—and that she herself will benefit from the experience.

“I’m very privileged to be able to work in an environment and work in a field where the work I do helps me heal too, because I’m learning a lot and educating myself,” she spoke.

For Marcelin, the Black Impact series also aspires to change the way marginalized communities approach and talk about mental health: “If I can have and do these talks, the research, or the therapy I practise with my clients—and it touches one person enough to feel like they can change intergenerational barriers or trauma in their own life, that’s already enough. If we’re having conversations about it, it’s being destigmatized.”

Marcelin is also including conversations and experiences from other marginalized communities such as the 2SLGBTQ+, Indian and other Asian communities. Marcelin believes that incorporating everyone’s culture and voice will empower students, create less isolation and a stronger sense of community.  

Menstrual Equity Symposium:

The Menstrual Equity Symposium is a part of the Menstrual Equity initiative that began three years ago, during the pandemic, to make sure all menstruators have access to menstrual products on campus without financial and social barriers. The Zen Dens started the initiative by mailing out free condoms to students in partnership with Concordia’s Health Services, and expanded by distributing menstrual products upon student demand, among other initiatives.

After receiving positive responses, the project continued by focusing on sustainable options for students to try out, such as Diva cups and reusable pads. 

The Menstrual Equity Symposium, happening on May 17, plans to bring student advocates, researchers, and other diverse voices to the forefront, in an attempt to highlight the need for accessibility of menstrual products in a higher-education environment. 

 Ritchie strongly believes in the power of student voices and hopes they will create open conversations around menstrual cycles. “We want to see change and change comes with work. So, it’s giving people those opportunities to connect with organizations that are doing [the change] and also, everything that happens at this university is driven by student voices,” she said. 

The Zen Dens are collaborating with the Concordia Student Union (CSU), Douglas College Menstrual Cycle Research Group, and Monthly Dignity—a Montreal-based non-profit organization—founded by McGill students to combat menstrual poverty in Montreal. 

Ritchie and the Zen Dens team will announce further information on the symposium soon. No specific timeline was released to The Concordian. They are also talking about an art exhibit in May as a part of the Menstrual Equity series, more details to come. 

“We hope this project will lead to further awareness and conversation around menstrual equity, while highlighting the opportunity for Concordia to fulfill its commitments to being a Next-Gen University who actively supports the UN Sustainability Goals and its commitment to equity work,” said Ritchie.

The Zen Dens will soon become “CU Wellness” later in the semester, but will keep the name Zen Dens for their five physical spaces on campus.


Make your hobby a priority

Integrating a hobby into your everyday life is essential for your well being. 

During lockdown in 2021, I came across a YouTube video on how to make a doll. I was mind-blown after seeing how a few pieces of felt, cotton and thread came together into a beautiful creation. I went on Amazon and purchased all the supplies needed—it took me three days to make my first doll and the process felt relaxing. All of a sudden, I went from feeling bored to being busy sketching and sewing more dolls. My time in lockdown was no longer depressing, but rather fulfilling.

Memories of knitting when I was in high school all came back to me. I started knitting again, and realized that in the same way doll-making was getting me through the pandemic, knitting helped me cope with anxiety and depression. 

Creating something is so calming; seeing something forming before your eyes is such a rewarding experience. More importantly, it helped me discover new things about myself. I learned that I am a creative person. My passion and curiosity for crafting grew, and I started crocheting.

The time I had alone, putting thousands of stitches together, allowed me to self-reflect. It was a way to calm my mind and take a step back from everything to process what I was going through. Crafting feels like you’re making magic, which made me feel joyful. I never imagined that something as simple as yarn could have this power. I had consistently underestimated the power of having a hobby.

We all need a little fresh air in our chaotic schedule. We experience so many feelings and situations throughout the day, and we must discover ways to release those negative emotions. Some people do that through writing, others paint or go for a run. Regardless of our chosen hobby, the outcome is guaranteed to be positive.

Studies have shown that a hobby improves mental health; it reduces stress and creates a sense of escapism. People experience fulfillment and a boost in their self-confidence. Having a hobby will also enhance your social life, which helps reduce feelings of loneliness. From my experience, crochet helped me make new friends as I joined crochet workshops. 

Interestingly, hobbies can actually enhance productivity.  A study led by Kevin Eschleman, an assistant psychology professor at San Francisco State University, showed that people with creative hobbies had 15 to 30 percent higher performance rankings. When we unwind, our mind becomes more focused, which improves performance.

Overall, having a hobby contributes to our personal growth. We learn new things about ourselves, discover unexpected passions, and make ourselves more curious. My hobbies transformed my mind and made me feel better about myself. Incorporating hobbies into your daily life is as simple as reading before bed, redirecting screen time toward something more creative, or crocheting on the bus. Check out Concordia’s Student Life to discover available workshops and activities on campus.


What you tell yourself matters

Working on myself and learning to love myself saved me.

I have a history of depression and have always been an anxious person. When I hit rock bottom in 2019, I had a choice to make: I could restart medication after being on it on and off over the years, or challenge my mind to be stronger. I chose the latter. Using the practice of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I learned to explore and challenge my automatic thoughts.

I started each day by watching a motivational video on YouTube and taking notes in my journal so that I could better process and adopt the healthier mentalities I was learning about. I worked out at the gym three times a week. Every time I didn’t feel like going, I told myself that this was the exact reason why I needed to go. I eventually developed discipline. I read more self-help books than I can count, and I would read a few pages every night. I listened to podcasts about mental health. I gave myself pep talks whenever I was feeling low. I made sure I had time to socialize despite being a student and a volunteer. And I always went to bed thinking of at least three things to be grateful for.

These tasks became my new habits. I followed through with this routine every single day and night for about a year and a half. I really had to learn to love myself. It was this love that forever changed the way I now treat myself and how I live my life.

I knew that it’d be easier in some way to be on medication and not have to stress about the potential decline of my mental health. But I chose to be stronger than I had ever been in my entire life during the absolute lowest period of my life because I knew the person I wanted to be and the life I wanted to lead. I believed that it was possible for me and this thought alone helped me transform my path of recovery into reality.

I knew that if I was on medication, it would help alleviate some of my symptoms. Being aware of its side effects and the effects of withdrawal, however, I didn’t want to be on medication if it absolutely wasn’t necessary. I never liked taking medication, so I had to learn to actively change my mind. I trained my brain to think positive thoughts—I constantly repeated them to myself. I practiced CBT on my own. With this technique, I was able to find reasons to help me believe in my new thoughts. I made sure to take the steps needed to achieve my goal.

What I learned was that what you feed your brain matters more than you think. You can truly effect change if you have the will for it. Even though I eventually got back on medication, I never regretted that year and a half of my life. I was proud of myself. Because of this time in my life, I now believe that anything can be possible if you set your mind to it.


The rollercoaster of being an international student

International students are thriving in the midst of adversity.

Montreal is known for being one of the best student cities in North America. With its beautiful diversity, universities in both English and French and a vibrant environment, students from around the world often decide to move to Canada. However, how far is reality from the outside picture? 

Many international students have struggled to secure affordable student housing while still in their country. Some got lucky and found a room in the on-campus student residence, but those on the waiting list who never got a spot had to quickly find an alternative before they arrived. With the rent increase, students are left with the option of either living in a neighborhood that requires over an hour of commute to class or squeezing in with strangers in a small apartment close to campus.

“It was very difficult to find a place to rent because many scammers on Facebook groups were advertising fake houses”, says Haeri Jang, an international student from South Korea. Students from abroad have been scapegoated for housing shortage for the longest time. 

Universities should be mindful of the international students’ residency before giving admissions to thousands. For example, Concordia University collaborated with three off-campus student residencies, YWCA, EVO and Campus1 MTL, to ensure that as many Concordia students as possible have a place to stay.

Another issue that international students face is the increase in tuition fees. The Quebec fees have increased by 3 per cent compared to 2022. International students are charged over thrice the fee Canadians and permanent residents pay per semester. The fees that international students pay consist of the Quebec rate, the international supplement and a 10 per cent international supplement. Concordia University offers scholarships and bursaries to help international students fund their studies. Students can also apply for scholarships funded by EduCanada through their website.

Having started my journey at Concordia University as an international student in 2019, I can confidently say that Concordia has given me all the tools I needed to navigate through the semester and my personal life. The service that has been the most beneficial to me is counseling. I have had eight consecutive sessions with one of the psychologists at Concordia to help me with social anxiety and I have learned many strategies to cope with anxious feelings.

I lived most of my life in Nigeria and Lebanon, and I remember constantly feeling agitated because I always thought my future was doomed. Ever since my move to Canada, the endless opportunities that have presented to myself have truly helped me truly pushed me out of my comfort zone. As a result, my confidence in social situations has improved tremendously.

The path of leaving your country of origin is complex, and it comes with many tears, losses, pain and sacrifices. In the long term, I firmly believe that it will be worth it because we are now given the opportunity to grow in ways we didn’t have back home. 

One of the main struggles that international students face when living in a bilingual city is being unable to communicate in French. This also raises the question of whether they are willing to work in Quebec after graduating since French is mandatory. 

Steven Ye, majoring in political science, says that he is currently learning French alone, and he has been getting some help from his French friends. Ye is presently applying to part-time jobs and hopes to get one in an anglophone area.

International students at Concordia have access to all services offered by the International Student Office (ISO) in the GM building downtown. Some of the services are getting legal advice, renewing CAQ and study permits, orientations and workshops on immigration. 

Aimee Becerril, a studio art student from Mexico, says that the ISO and the John Molson International Committee in John Molson have been the most helpful. The conference held by the JIC helped Becerril learn how to open a bank account, use the STM and gain money management tips, especially regarding grocery shopping.

Studying abroad sounds like a dream to many. The journey starts by feeling homesick, scared, and confused. Then, it continues with questioning our identity and sense of belonging. Finally, after years of going through a series of culture shock, language barriers, and evolving in a new environment, international students will later realize that they are stronger than they think and have what it takes to overcome any obstacle.


A return to four in-person workdays opposed by Concordia staff unions

Staff members are disappointed with the deans’ decision and are taking matters into their own hands.

At the President’s welcome last week, unions representing staff members of Concordia joined the festivities to present Graham Carr with a petition signed by 613 members. The petition asked him to reconsider the decision to request Concordia staff return to in-person work four days a week. 

This decision was announced in June. Before then, the hybrid work model had varied between departments, but many staff members said they enjoyed the flexibility and that it was a healthy and effective system.

Beata Tararuj, graduate program coordinator for the electrical and computer engineering department, created the petitions against the return to four in-person workdays. She did not hear about the decision from her dean, but from one of her colleagues. 

“The number of emails that I started getting, it was like an email after email after email, after email, after email, and everybody was so not happy. Everybody was miserable. Everybody was disappointed. We felt like somebody stabbed us in our back,” Tararuj said.

Her first petition was sent to all faculties at the university, collecting 250 votes. A second petition was later sent out when the unions were able to make their votes, which now has a total of 613 votes.  

“When a student comes with a problem, I am there to listen,” said Tararuj. “I’m here to navigate through the Concordia system. I’m here to make sure that these people are well taken care of.  So I was thinking to myself, I fight for students on a regular basis. Why won’t I fight for myself?” 

Since the pandemic, people have started to adapt to the new normal of hybrid work. Concordia University is still trying to define what this vision is going to look like.

In 2021, Concordia requested its staff return to in-person work two days a week. In 2022, that number went up to three days a week. And now, staff has been asked to return to campus four days a week.

Sigmund Lam, vice president negotiations of the Concordia University Professional Employees Union (CUPEU), worries that Concordia staff may be expected to return to full-time in-person work next year—a fear that was echoed by other union members. 

So where is this decision of increased workdays coming from? In an email, Vannina Maestracci, Concordia’s spokesperson, explained that it “prioritizes services and supports Concordia’s core activities: teaching, research and knowledge creation, and the student experience.”

Maestracci also wrote that this decision was taken “to achieve the vision of a vibrant campus experience and ensure fairness.” The fairness refers to the idea of having a uniform standard for all staff (four days in-person per week) instead of letting departments decide on their own guidelines.

The four faculty deans denied our request for an interview. When approached at the welcome event on Sept. 7, president Carr refused to comment on the decision or the petition.

Many staff members have said they wish the deans had given more explanations for this decision. Shoshana Kalfon, advisor and president of CUPEU, said she wants to see the data supporting this return to in-person work.

“They have all these keywords, the word of the day. ‘We want a vibrant campus.’ Was it not? And is it required that everybody be on campus all the time for that to exist?” she said.

To her, the hybrid work model is all about giving staff choices. Some may decide to work from home two days a week, and some may decide to be on campus every day.

“I don’t know if it’s that [the administration] doesn’t want us to have the opportunity to make a decision, to make a choice—and that, to me, comes down to control.” she said. 

Lam explained that staff often end up doing more productive work when they work from home. “Quite often, people in the office are interrupted constantly,” he said. 

“Unhappy employees are less productive,” he added. “And I believe the employees have lost trust in upper management’s ability to make decisions with regard to hybrid or flexible work. And loss of trust also causes a reduction in performance.”

Alycia Manning is the enrollment coordinator for the law and society program in the history department. Last semester, she worked in-person for three and a half days a week. 

She said she valued “being at home and being able to just focus [on herself].” “You wake up, you can do a little workout in the morning, then you can do your laundry at lunchtime. It’s nice to be able to just have that, just a little bit of freedom,” she added. 

Tararuj echoed that feeling, saying she needs a healthy work/life balance to stay present with her tasks and in every aspect of her life.

“This specific position [program coordinator], it’s a demanding position. There’s a lot of tasks, there’s a lot of students. I’m a high energy person and I like to give energy to my students,” she shared. “By the time I get home, I’m so dead. I’m so tired, I can’t even go to a park with my kids.”

Daniela Ferrer—who was, until recently, VP grievances and mobilization coordinator at Concordia University Support Staff Union (CUSSU)—is also worried that this decision will affect staff’s mental health.

“Concordia pays a lot of lip service to the importance of mental health, but they really don’t seem to be listening to workers when they tell them: ‘Hey, you know, working remotely has been incredibly beneficial to my mental health and this return to campus is causing a lot of anxiety,” Ferrer said.

“[The administration is] ignoring the fact that a lot of things changed during the pandemic and people’s priorities shifted,” said Ferrer. According to her, hybrid work has brought to light people’s “lost time”—time spent commuting, sitting at your desk when all the work is done, or waiting between meetings. 

Elizabeth Xu is a woodshop technician in the fine arts department and already works four days a week from 9 to 5. She hopes President Carr will listen to what the university’s staff has to say. 

“I hope that they can open their ears and open their hearts to the will of the people,” Xu said. “If the majority of the workers are saying that this [hybrid work] is something that’s better for them, I feel like it’s just the right thing to do from one human to another, to listen to their experiences and try and make accommodations where possible, especially if the work isn’t compromised.”


Can mental illness be an addiction?

Finding comfort in anxiety

Mental illness can be addictive. I know that is a loaded, very serious statement, but allow me to explain. Ever since I was a kid, I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder. It usually manifested itself in very normal stressful situations and everyone figured it was just a part of growing up.

Though overtime, it worsened. In high school, I’d feel nauseous before hanging out with friends or I’d spend hours crying because I felt overwhelmed and overstimulated. I started to avoid going out, gaining a reputation for being “anti-social.” 

At the height of my anxiety I developed an intense fear of being murdered, which still lingers today. I spent nearly a year constantly looking over my shoulder and imagining different violent scenarios to see if I could plan a way to get out of them. 

I barely slept. I’d cry over every single assignment I’d submit because I knew I could barely manage to get it done in the first place. I didn’t go out unless it was to my best friend’s place where we’d just stay in. 

My mental health was at its lowest. The problem, though, was I didn’t want to change. 

I knew my fears were irrational. I knew I should’ve forced myself to try harder at school. I knew getting out of the house would make me feel better. But I had no interest in doing that. 

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of addiction is “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behaviour, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects.”

Looking back, I’d say I was addicted to my anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that mental illness is addictive, or that this applies to every mental illness. However, in my experience, it did — and it’s come to my attention that I’m not the only one who has felt this way. 

I found comfort in my anxiety, I was so deep in it for so long that it became what I centred my life around. My anxiety felt like that childhood stuffed animal, the one you couldn’t sleep without as a kid. I saw no reason to change.

The prospect of trying to fight my way out of my worst episode, just to fall back into another potentially even worse episode, was terrifying. 

In an interview with CBC, psychiatrist Dr. Judson Brewer said that humans can become addicted to worry and anxiety, and just like any other addiction our brain can learn to crave the sensation of worry.

I am only comfortable enough in saying this because of those lovely, deep 3 a.m. talks with friends. Those conversations were part of what helped me realize I was not alone in this experience. 

That’s the good news: You’re not alone.

There are places you can turn to for help.

If you’re struggling, please consider reaching out to Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological services.


Quebec announces new Observatory on the well-being and mental health of students in higher education

Concordia’s involvement in the project remains uncertain

On Tuesday Feb. 21, Pascale Déry, Quebec Minister of Higher Education, announced the creation of an Observatory to research student mental health in higher education. The Observatory will partner with researchers and students in various disciplines. Quebec will  invest $2.8 million over five years in the interdisciplinary project. The Observatory is part of the government’s Plan d’action sur la santé mentale étudiante en enseignement supérieur 2021-2026 (action plan for student mental health in higher education).

The research project will be co-directed by researchers from the Cégep de Jonquière and Université de Sherbrooke. The Observatory’s mandate will assess and monitor the state of mental health in higher education on a large scale. It will also link research to practice in the field by guiding educational institutions in the implementation of their mental health policies.

Scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec en Santé, Carole Jabet, pointed out that the findings on the mental health of students were worrisome.

“We have talked about the pandemic, a health crisis that has affected all of us, but especially our students, and all this has definitely accentuated the problems of physical and mental health,” she said.

Jabet added that the Observatory wished to meet a great diversity of needs since any student in higher education is at risk of suffering from mental health issues.

“There is no correlation between mental health and the discipline in which one studies, the institution where one studies,” said Jabet. “Every young adult around us is likely to suffer from mental health issues.”

One of the cross-cutting objectives of the Observatory will be to train members of the student population to become mental health professionals. This idea fits in with one of the main goals of the Observatory, which is to decompartmentalize mental health research.

Neuroscience researcher Rémi Quirion said that despite the frequency of mental illnesses, they remain stigmatized.

“Mental illnesses are not rare. We estimate it touches 20 per cent, and in the student population it’s even 25 per cent,” said Quirion. “If you look around the room, one out of four people around you will suffer from a mental illness in their life.”

Concordia spokesperson Vannina Maestracci said that the involvement of the University in this project is still to be decided.
“Concordia would certainly be willing to be involved but it is too early to say in what role,” said Maestracci in an email to The Concordian.


Holocaust Survivor Angela Orosz speaks on intergenerational trauma

“I dreamt of the Germans,” says Orosz’s daughter who was conditioned to learn adulthood before she even knew the meaning of the word

When she was just three years old, Katy Orosz was sent grocery shopping on her own. Unbeknownst to her, her mother Angela was secretly following along to ensure her safety. Still, the trauma of that early push for independence lingers in Katy today.

In late January, Angela Orosz, one of the youngest Holocaust survivors, spoke at the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) to discuss her daughter’s experiences with intergenerational trauma.

The event, which held an audience of 350 people, took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. 

Former Chief Anchor and Senior Editor of CTV News, Lisa Laflamme, hosted the public interview with Orosz to discuss how the genocide impacted aspects of her life, notably her motherhood.

Laflamme covered Orosz’s story on CTV News in 2020, when the two visited Auschwitz. It had been the survivor’s first time back at the concentration camp since her birth.

Orosz was born on Dec. 21, 1944, in German-occupied Poland at the Auschwitz concentration camp. She was one of few to survive the liberation that following year.

The public discussion unraveled the painful psychological impacts of the Holocaust, and Orosz explained its influence on her early parental experiences.

During the mid to late 1960s, Orosz gave birth to her daughter Katy in Budapest, Hungary. Orosz passed down many of the “survivor skills” that she learned from her mother Vera Otvos-Beins. This consisted of sending her young daughter off to go grocery shopping and take public transportation “alone.”

“She was three years old. She can’t forgive me. I taught her how to go shopping by herself. She didn’t know I was following her, but I wanted her to have that feeling that whatever is happening, she is not lost,” confessed Orosz. 

This motherly instinct to push for early independence and adulthood in her toddler reflected the trauma she endured when anticipating a recurrence of the Holocaust. 

“I think it’s understandable, given what you’ve been through, what your mother probably taught you as a little girl,” said Laflamme. The journalist sympathized with Orosz on the challenges of teaching one’s own child as a survivor. 

In August of 2016, Orosz was asked to speak about the transmission of psychological trauma from mothers to children at a psychiatric conference in Dresden. However, Orosz’ reaction to the invite involved instant denial to her repressed feelings of trauma. “I’m not going to do it, I don’t have trauma,” she said.  

Orosz went directly to her two children to ask about their thoughts on her attending the event. When she questioned her having trauma, her son had little to say. “But my daughter gave me a list to China and back, on what I did,” she jokingly stated. 

“She said, ‘Mom, are you telling me you don’t have trauma? Your whole life is the Holocaust, everything was the Holocaust. You wanted me to be strong and you made me scared. I couldn’t go to sleep because I dreamt of the Germans,’” explained Orosz. 

Sarah Fogg is a staff member at the MHM and a third-generation survivor to her two grandparents, Marek and Mara Lewkowicz, who survived the Holocaust in Balkhash, Kazakhstan and Kassel, Germany. After World War II, the young couple began a family and fled as refugees to Canada, where they started a new chapter in their lives. 

Fogg has worked with Orosz for years, and emphasized her good intent in trying to protect her daughter from potential harms after the Holocaust. 

The thought of Orosz instilling fear into her daughter at such a young age had never been her intention. “For Angi, it wasn’t from that perspective at all, she was just trying to build a safer human,” expressed Fogg.

Orosz felt strongly towards being open about her past with her children, in hopes of teaching them resilience and gratefulness. 

She referred to memories early on in her parenthood when her children would complain about something. For instance, if they disliked the meal their mother cooked for them, Orosz would reply with “you know how happy [you] would have been in Auschwitz?”.

“We were happy if water came from the faucets in Auschwitz, how could you dare to complain?” she often asked her children.

When her children were young, she juggled the task of being a novice mother while carrying the weight of being a Holocaust survivor. Orosz was also just trying her best, and many other survivors were too.

“When I think of the survivors that I know, again I can’t speak for everybody, everyone’s different, everyone has just tried their best. They came to Canada as refugees, they had to build new lives, learn new languages, new jobs, start from nothing. And I think they all just did the best they could, really,” said Fogg.

Despite never enduring trauma from the Holocaust, Fogg sympathizes with other descendants who’ve felt as though they lived within their families’ tragic stories. 

“Now that I work at the museum, I know that there’s a right way and a wrong way to bring up the history because it could be really traumatizing to talk about it, for the listener and for the survivor,” said Fogg.


Author and CNN journalist Marissa Miller sees a glass half-full

Her book Pretty Weird highlights all of her experiences

An eating disorder, a miscarriage, and mental health issues: Marissa Miller has persevered through all these, and more. Now she has collected all her negative experiences and used them to create something positive.

In her book  Pretty Weird, Marissa highlights all of her painful memories to let her readers know that they are never alone.

Marissa studied journalism at Concordia from 2010 to 2013. Since then, she has grown a large platform and hopes to use it to act as a beacon of hope for others who are going through tough times.

“I’ve always been very much an open book in the literal sense, and I use that to my advantage to make others feel less alone in their struggles,” Marissa said.

Knowing that she is helping people allows her to get past the difficulty of publicizing her experiences. “It becomes less ‘things that have humiliated me in the past,’ and more so ‘things that I can use to be a beacon for other people,” she explained.

One such experience was her struggle with impostor syndrome. But transforming her negative feelings into sentences helped her overcome them, while also comforting her readers. “It really robs the pain of its power,” she said. “It’s almost like using my mental health issues as a way to masquerade the fact that you can be broken and imperfect and also of service to others.”

She started her career as a freelance journalist, working for big outlets such as CNN Style, The New York Times, and NBC News. Now, she works full-time at CNN as a contributing editor writing mostly product recommendations and lifestyle advice. She is also a certified personal trainer and outlines all her work on her blog.

Sheldon Miller, Marissa’s father, admits that her determination and affinity for writing not only gave her confidence, but allowed her to always excel in her work. “I don’t know if she is always the most aggressive-type person…but when it comes to her career, she’s on top of everything.” 

Many people have reached out to Marissa since her book’s publication to tell her that she took the thoughts right out of their heads. “These are universal feelings that I’m putting on the page,” Marissa confirmed. She is very direct in discussing her rejections, fears, anxieties, and relationships in her book. “They might seem very crude and maybe a little bit too raw at times, but this is the human experience that we are all going through,” she asserted.

One of the biggest lessons that Marissa has learned from everything she’s gone through is that there is always something better out there. “That rings true for everything, not just your relationships,” Marissa explained.

“A lot of our depression and our anxiety will tell us that we are only deserving of what’s presented to us and what’s in front of us. But really one of the best things you can do for yourself is aspiring for more and aspiring for better because you deserve it,” she said.

On top of helping others, Marissa was also thinking of her younger self when writing her book, attempting to give herself the “older sister figure, best friend figure” that she never had as a child and teenager. Though her younger sister, Michelle, is one of the only people who knew about Marissa’s experiences.

“I’d say 90 per cent of it I knew about, either as it was happening or she would open up to me a few years later,” Michelle said. Marissa consulted her sister throughout the writing process to ask for her opinion on editorial choices. Michelle was the only person who knew about several moments mentioned in the book as the two sisters have always been extremely close. “We were so tight and open about everything,” Michelle added. “We’ll be on the phone [for] hours a day. Sometimes we’re not even talking on the phone. It’s just on, but we know that [the other person] is there,” Michelle continued.

Marissa’s parents were always very loving and attentive towards her, she mentions in Pretty Weird, but they were not as informed on her experiences as Michelle. “A lot of the stuff in the book, I didn’t really realize,” Sheldon said. “We knew as she got a bit older, there were some struggles and this and that…but until I read the book, I don’t think I realized it [to that extent],” he continued, adding that it was difficult to read about Marissa’s troubling moments. 

More than anything else, he wants Marissa to write the truth, which is what she did. This included some unfortunate stories about Sheldon’s sister, who was close with Marissa and passed away due to health issues related to long-term drug use. But Sheldon wanted Marissa to keep those stories in her book. “I knew she was writing an honest account of her experiences and thoughts,” he explained. “If Marissa was able to grab onto something in a good way or a bad way…for someone to maybe enjoy the book or learn from the book, that’s part of journalism,” he said.

While Marissa always has her family at home, she often chooses to work alone. She enjoys working on her own more than working with a team. “It makes me doubly proud to reflect on my accomplishments because I didn’t have to rely on anyone for them,” she affirmed. Marissa always took charge of group projects when she was in school, so being the only one in charge of her career “is a continuation of that.”

Much of her work as a journalist focuses on lifestyle advice and mental health. She says that she enjoys doing service journalism the most. “One of the only things that give me a sense of purpose is giving advice to other people,” Marissa explained.

In her career she has covered a wide variety of topics, such as finance and real estate when she was starting. As time went on, she gravitated toward lifestyle topics and product recommendations. “People need to know that the products they use in everyday life have more of an impact on their well-being than they think,” she asserted. Marissa is currently doing service journalism for CNN and loving every moment of it.

Pretty Weird, which is still available on Amazon, has been a huge success for Marissa. She hopes to write another book in the future. She is looking towards that, but doesn’t think that now is the right time. “I feel like I have so much I want to say. I need some breathing room,” she asserted. For now, she is very happy where she is. “I do hope to rise the ranks at CNN and stay there forever.”

Exit mobile version