SFU is not supportive of students' mental health

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sfu mental health illust

Even with a doctor’s note, you may be expected to complete your course

By Tara Nykyforiak
Illustration by Ben Buckley

Throughout this past year of study at SFU, I have concluded our university is overall unsupportive of students dealing with mental health situations. This lack of support and compassion spans both SFU’s academic procedures and student requirements.

A friend of mine recently gathered the courage to speak to their doctor about their struggle with depression. This was after a sustained period of social withdrawal and a significant decrease in his academic performance. His doctor was accepting and sympathetic, and encouraged him to speak with someone at SFU.

His professors also proved caring and willing to discuss possible courses of action, but when directed to speak with our university’s academic advisors, the compassionate acknowledgment came to an end.

My friend, upon advice from their professors, wished to acceptably withdraw from their courses so as to re-take them the following semester. Despite their doctor’s recommendation and the recommendation of their professors, my friend was told by the advisor to continue with their courses and write their exams, because the process concerning “Withdrawals Under Extenuating Circumstances” takes six to eight weeks and is not guaranteed.

My initial impression of the situation was anger. I believe that my friend struggling with depression, a condition affecting 10 per cent of Canadians according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, should not be compartmentalized under “extenuating circumstances.”

In a population of 33,476,688, 3.3 million Canadians experience a form of depression in their lifetime. To merely categorize mental health conditions as “extenuating circumstances” is not only ignorant of the reality of the mental health situation of Canada, but unfair to those who are courageous enough to seek out the help of professionals. Not enough effort is made to acknowledge and accommodate the mental health difficulties experienced by tuition-paying students.

Individuals like my friend have the documentation for withdrawal, but have not been given the attention they warrant. Their letters from medical professionals are not respected if they are still required to wait six to eight weeks for their situation to be assessed. Thus, it seems SFU doesn’t support personal mental health difficulties, nor feel that the mental health conditions of students is a priority. At present, my friend is functionally unable to withdraw from their classes. Because there is no guarantee they will receive the permission to acceptably withdraw, they are forced to write exams that they were advised by their doctor and their professors not to write.

The situational judgement of professors used to be considered, but has since been centralized into a committee not directly involved with the students they are assessing. Their marks, as a result, will not be a genuine reflection of their knowledge or capabilities as a student.

It’s unfortunate that the very educational institution that professes to engage the world voluntarily ignores the mental health struggles of the students who support it.

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