Speak Up Speak Out De-stigmatizes Mental Health

content warning: this article discusses self-harm.


November is the highest-suicide rated month of the academic year for post-secondary students. As we creep closer, consider Speak Up Speak Out (SUSO)’s tagline “don’t let mental health be the elephant in the room”

Between October and November, post-secondary students experience the weight of mid-term exams, taking five or more courses, working, and possibly applying for co-op and industry jobs. These factors automatically eat up time that could be spent with family and friends, getting a good night’s sleep, exercising, or making nutritional meals. These are the top tips for staying mentally healthy according to the Canadian Mental Health Association—specifically the British Columbia division.

From September 30 to October 4, SUSO provides services and resources out of their “mental health toolbox” like Doggy De-Stress, a free suicide prevention training workshop called QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer), social outings, and fitness-oriented activities. The central theme throughout the weeklong event is destigmatizing mental health.

The Stigma Around Mental Health

According to SUSO’s website “In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experience a significant mental health problem or illness. This means most of us will know someone who has experienced a mental health problem.” The mental wellness week strives to “to eliminate stigma, increase awareness and create an inclusive, caring campus.” Unfortunately, suicidal thoughts can still be present and can take lives.

Most Canadian universities have extended or added breaks during the school year to alleviate stress for post-secondary students. However, there are still some establishments that don’t have a fall reading break, such as the University of British Columbia (UBC), BCIT and McGill University in Quebec. In the past few years, UBC and McGill reported the number of appointments for counselling and other mental health services more than doubled.

Suicides on campus are not usually publicized, with little mention of the actual word ‘suicide’. Instead, most institutions avoid speaking about the subject for what is assumed to be liability reasons. Two took students recently took their lives on university campuses—the tragic passing of Spencer Stone at Vancouver Island University, and a student at the University of Toronto (U of T). Their deaths sparked conversations about mental health support on campus.

On November 5, 2018, Vancouver Island University student Spencer Stone fell from the top of the library building. He was 21 years old. Many students were inside the library during his fall, and others (who received counselling) witnessed the impact.

Spencer’s parents, who addressed the public shortly after the incident, said “if you’re feeling overwhelmed beyond belief and you feel like you have no options, just give yourself an hour, talk to someone on the phone because those moments can pass. Just seek out somebody before you do something that you can’t take back.”

In March of 2019, a U of T student would take their life on campus, making it the third of its kind in eight months. The event ignited student protests, stating it was due to the school’s negligence and “limitations” on counselling appointments.

When the Canadian National College Health Assessment took a survey among students in 2016, the numbers were striking. It showed 59.6% of students felt hopeless, 64.5% reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety, 44.4% reported feeling so depressed they had difficulty functioning, 13% took taking their life into consideration and 2.1% attempted to do so. The reports of anxiety, depression and hopelessness were the biggest increases since their last survey in 2013.

BCIT students are warned about this school’s intense course load from word of mouth and reviews online. With many students striving for greatness and success while carrying seven or eight courses, it’s no wonder suicide prevention and mental health awareness programs are in place.

Although the Library’s napping pods might not be present during SUSO’s mental health fair, utilizing their resources can help ease off some life stressors, essentially putting your mind to rest so your body can too. Also, by opening up and approaching the topic open-mindedly, we can help educate each other. Similar to the Bell Let’s Talk day, SUSO invites you to join the movement and actively participate in destigmatizing mental health. This can be achieved by speaking up, speaking out and addressing the elephant in the room.

For the full SUSO schedule, check out bcitsa.ca/suso/.