Dear Western University,
I have been on the Dean’s Honor List, worked tirelessly on my faculty council and volunteered countless hours to the Orientation program, yet I am known to certain members of the administration as the girl who was in the psych ward.
My journey accessing Western’s mental health resources (or lack thereof) began in November 2014 when I was booked an appointment within 24 hours of revealing my suicidal ideations. I was shocked how quickly I was able to get an appointment but then again, in my experience, the mere mention of the word “suicidal” quickly grabs the attention of an institution that seem to be more concerned with liability over safety of its students.
Nevertheless, after a psychiatric assessment, I was placed on medication, reassessed two weeks later and then no longer received follow up. I fell through the cracks of an underfunded system and failed to receive counselling as I was promised by my psychiatrist.
My condition deteriorated as I failed to keep up in school, withdrew from my social life and lost pleasure in activities that used to bring me joy. This experience was in no way unique — it is likely the experience of many, though perhaps my interactions with university administration is rather distinctive.
Due to a variety of factors, my condition worsened in my third year at Western. After several suicide attempts, I was admitted to Victoria Hospital. Academically, everything was put on hold. Where things got complicated was in terms of my co-curriculars. I was still interested in maintaining the same commitments as I had in the past, but some university administration and student leaders disagreed with me.
I would like to preface this by saying that as a cisgendered white woman, I despise even labelling my experience as discrimination, but with great hesitation I admit that by definition I have fallen victim to the prejudice of narrow-minded individuals. With no hesitation I believe that my mental illness was used as a factor in a hiring decision for a volunteer position. I was promised that my “standing as an applicant [would] not be compromised in any way” when receiving accommodation.
My “motivations for returning” to this position were brought into question, and I was being asked to sit down one-on-one with one of the student leaders (which is not standard practice). My honesty was used as a weapon against me when I chose to disclose the details of my hospital stay. Deliberations that were supposed to be supervised were tainted by the discussion of my mental health. None of these individuals have the qualifications or experience to assess me or make fundamental decisions based on very limited information: they are not experts.
I was mistaken that when applying to a program that prides itself on acceptance, respect and mental wellness, my qualifications and experience would be taken seriously. Regardless, I am the only individual to my knowledge who was rejected post-interview as a returning member. My weeks at the hospital were not a result of any university student or administrator, but my mental state was further affected by the difficulty of the process and the way I was treated by individuals involved.
I fought tirelessly to reverse the decision made by individuals who were so quick to judge my ability to perform. There were countless emails exchanged between myself and relevant university employees. When I questioned inconsistent information during a phone call, I was received with a shocking tone that practically questioned my sanity. I wasn’t treated with any compassion. There was even a scheduled face-to-face meeting with a university employee.
When I cancelled this meeting the night before due to an unbearable amount of anxiety, another university employee proceeded to call my parents in order to “make sure I was okay.” Why didn’t they call me, you ask?
I believe they were interested in assessing whether I was alive or not, to see if they had another suicide on their hands: they weren’t so much concerned for my safety but whether or not they had a liability brewing. As a result, my confidentiality was breached as I had never given permission for my parents to be called.
To this day, three months after I had been discharged from the hospital, there still seems to be gossiping of my stay. When I had introduced myself to a university employee who I had never spoken with, they asked me “Wait, Anastasia? The one in the hospital?”
Some students complain about how they’re only defined as their student number. Imagine being defined by your time of weakness, rather than your courage by taking charge of your mental illness. I’m not ashamed of having been a psychiatric patient for seven weeks. I’m ashamed that the individuals involved are planning an event around mental health for first-year students this September. Further, I’m ashamed of calling myself a student at a university that boasts about their efforts to end the stigma.
Written by Anastasia Lemon
originally posted on The Gazette