Reprinted from the "Campuses" issue of Visions Journal, 2008, 4 (3), p. 3
The process of choosing a cover image for this issue of Visions turned out to be a useful exercise in thinking about its themes. Originally, we were thinking of a summer photo: a classic scene of students, ripe with potential, sprawled on the lawn of a Canadian campus with grand buildings in the distance. But the more we looked at the photo, the more it seemed to gloss over the less ‘sunshiney’ aspects of campus life. After all, it can also be the time in our lives when we develop unhealthy relationships with alcohol and other drugs, and/or have our first break of mental illness or suicidal thoughts.
So our final photo choice, of campus steps, represents these tensions a bit better. It’s a metaphor for the life transitions of students, for the different stages campuses are at in their readiness to deal with these issues, for the steps—big and small—campuses and students are taking forward, and for the supports that need to be in place to get us where we want to go. And hey, stairs are also great places to sit and study, and chat with friends.
…Which brings us to our next major theme. When I think back to my university days, I remember having discussions, meeting lots of new people, encountering new perspectives, and feeling freedom in those talks to think in fresh and creative ways. Many of the examples you’ll be reading about of successful starts on campuses to promote mental health and healthy substance use involve these very same things. Discussions, dialogues, diverse groups on and off campus being brought together to think in new ways, and partnerships with peers—students and staff—all tap into the inherent wealth of expertise that lives right on campuses.
Post-secondary was the time in my life when I first developed major depression, when I was properly diagnosed and began the path to recovery. Some of my best and worst memories live in those years. It was also the place—after my valedictory speech at graduation, in front of hundreds of peers and strangers—when I came out of the closet with my depression. I still remember the shock on people’s faces. I could almost read their minds: “not her, she’s had so many successes, she looks so normal.” It’s still one of the best and most courageous things I ever did. It was scary and empowering. Kind of like school itself.
About the authorSarah is Visions Editor and Director of Public Education and Communications at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division. She also has personal experience with mental illness.