C/O Paulina Rzeczkowska
The Silhouette: Please provide a brief summary of the research you and those at the NeuroFit lab do.
Jennifer Heisz: I am the director of the NeuroFit lab and we study the impacts of exercise on the brain, as it can be used to improve cognition and mental health in individuals who are younger, older and with Alzheimer's disease.
Tell me a bit about your new book!
My new book is called Move the Body, Heal the Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity and Sleep and this book is really special for three reasons. First, it showcases the greatest research studies from my lab and others around the world, showing the benefits of exercise for the brain. It also has a very personal story of my own. I personally have struggled with mental health issues in the past and was able to use exercise to heal my own mind and I share pretty candidly those stories in the book. Then, finally, a really special feature of the book is, at the end of each chapter, there are these specialized workouts [where] I synthesize the research into these workout plans.
What are you most proud of in this book?
I'm really proud of the messages that are sent. It’s a compassionate piece that I think, based on the early reviews, is really resonating with people who have felt lost or are struggling with mental health and feel alone, or have struggled to be active and now find the new motivation to be more active. I'm really, really proud of the book. I researched it extensively, I poured my whole heart and soul into these personal stories . . . I feel like when we think about mental health, our stories can remain secret, but I think when successful people share and open up about their own struggles with mental health it can give young people hope.
Was it difficult being so vulnerable and open with your personal experiences in the book?
Yes . . . It's so hard to be vulnerable and [share] this story, but the hope is that by being so honest and so open, it will really help the people that need it the most.
If there is one thing you want readers to take away from the book, what would it be?
That they're not alone in their journey and their struggle. That there is light at the end of the tunnel and you just need to hold on to that hope that it'll be better . . . It can be hard but you're not alone and successful people struggle and still achieve many amazing things in their life, you know, and asking for help is important when you need it.
For students who maybe want to pursue a variety of passions or develop their careers in different ways the way that you have, do you have any advice for them when it comes to having multiple roles in their career?
Yeah, I think that variety is the spice of life, right? And having different passions is a really great way to stay excited and invigorated in your work, your life's work . . . For me, the big thing is having a vision, having a dream about what you want to do and what contribution you want to make in your life and then putting those pieces in motion to make that dream a reality even if it takes years. Some of the big things we want to do, like this book from inception to publication was three years, it takes a long time, but you know, step by step, piece by piece, it comes together and so having this vision and this long-term planning can be really beneficial.
Anything else you would like to add or share with students?
I think especially during busy times, like exam times, it's important to make time for self-care. It seems counterproductive, but it's so valuable because when we take time to care for ourselves . . . [it] helps our brain to thrive and function better optimally so that we are more efficient at studying and we're more productive during our work time . . . Five-minute breaks are enough to improve focus. A 10-minute break’s enough to increase creativity and then the 30-minute break three times a week we've shown is enough to buffer against stress-induced depression. So just brisk walking for five to 10 or 30 minutes is enough to really have a big impact on your mental health and cognition.
There needs to be more awareness surrounding athlete mental health
As we near the date on which the latest COVID-19 measures will be lifted, Ontario University Athletics has officially announced a resumption of their sport competitions and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for many student athletes. However, there are many other ways in which the sports dynamic at universities may affect their mental health and their general wellbeing.
The recent spike in Omicron cases around Ontario prompted a lockdown that negatively affected many student athletes around the university. Not only did individuals have their pre-season heavily affected by the lockdowns but the amateur label placed on OUA also meant that teams that were supposed to have their season continue after the new year were required to wait for an additional few weeks.
The Marauders basketball teams are prime examples of students who suffered due to the measures implemented. Thomas Matsell, a player on the men’s basketball team, mentioned in a previous article that the forced pause was both frustrating and stressful. This sentiment is shared by many athletes who had to pause their activities. With that said, how much of an impact has all this had on their mental health?
In a recent study published by Sport Aide, the most common psychological problems that student athletes will suffer include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, problems related to the use of illicit substances and psychological changes following a concussion. Many of the mental health concerns already faced by student athletes were only exacerbated by the recent obstacles they faced in playing their sport.
Marauders on the women’s tennis team, including Jovana Paramentic, explained the various ways in which the recent measures exacerbated or caused negative mental health among players. Beyond the recent COVID-19 measures, athletes who play seasonal sports have the additional burden of ensuring they take care of their health during both on and off season.
“There are many things that can affect our mental health. They can be lockdowns, rejection or something else like missing out on the sporting action that you got used to. For seasonal players [like the tennis team], it is essential that we take care of our mental health throughout. When our season ends, we do lack that play time and I personally would miss being with the team and playing together,” said Paramentic.
Given the various ways in which student athletes have faced unique mental health challenges due to the recent COVID-19 measures, it is important that awareness surrounding athlete mental health increases. Only through greater awareness can solutions be developed.
“I feel as if there needs to be more awareness raised with regards to the current mental health issues athletes at universities feel on a daily basis. Although there have been some prompts made before at McMaster, I think that it's more important now than ever. When there’s so much uncertainty regarding whether we will get to play at all or not, it creates a sort of anxiety among us that you just can't let go of easily,” said Paramentic.
The pandemic had a significant effect on athletes’ mental health, from the cancelled 2020 season to all the delays that occurred in 2021.
“There are many reasons why an athlete's mental health may be affected, however I feel that lately, the pandemic definitely had the highest toll on athletes, especially those which are in university. Although I can’t speak objectively, I feel that generally, the weird schedule and the ever-changing outcomes of lockdowns can confuse us and this is something that can lead us to struggle mentally,” said Paramentic.
Paramentic hopes, that in the future, McMaster can offer broader services to student athletes who are struggling with their mental stability.
“I would certainly like to see more action being done by the university in minimizing the struggles that athletes experience. Maybe setting up a more accessible counseling initiative for athletes would be useful, or anything similar,” said Paramentic.
Although OUA will resume their activities in early February, about a month after they were halted, there is still so much uncertainty regarding whether such pauses will occur again in the future. The mental health of student athletes will, without a doubt, always be vulnerable to such decisions as nobody knows exactly when the pandemic will come to a close.
C/O Mateus Campos, Unsplash
The evolution of society is cultivating the different childhoods of youth today
Young adults today often observe the emerging wave of teenagers and adolescents with mixed feelings of frustration, confusion, disgust and awe all at the same time. Throughout the first two decades of the 21st century, Tamagotchis have somehow turned into the iPhone 13, playing at the park has been replaced by scrolling through social media and better yet, no one ever foresaw a day where children can attend school from their beds.
Though these new practices shock the young adults of today, it only makes sense for an evolving society to yield different childhood experiences for newer generations. After all, every generation will have unique markers based on differing common experiences.
What many find difficult to comprehend in adolescents, however, is their changing behaviour, rise in mental health issues and declining social skills. Through personal investigations, parents and other adults are quick to point technology as the leading culprit, but there’s much more to the picture.
In addition to the rapid evolution of devices since the early 2000s, the world has also seen increased importance laid upon social media, influencers and remote communication.
Of course, no conversation nowadays is complete without factoring in the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s completely valid in this case though, because it is arguably the defining historical event for this new generation, much like the World Wars, the Great Depression and American presidential elections have been for previous ones.
The pandemic has effectively magnified both the causes and effects that have resulted in the colourful palate of children and adolescents today. It has enforced an increased reliance on technology and social media communication, even enlisting the few things that remained “normal” such as school into the same category.
With schools and childcare programs coming to a halt or shifting online, children growing up in the pandemic are lacking sufficient social and cognitive stimulation which directly affects their habits and behaviour. Like many issues, this is also an intersectional one wherein children of different races, family incomes and neighbourhoods are affected differently.
This is true for both young children as well as teenagers in high school who are now finding themselves in difficult situations in university classes. For example, last week, an alleged fourth-year McMaster student shared their experience and concerns on the university’s unofficial subreddit, r/McMaster, after attending a first-year online course.
The fourth-year student claimed that the younger students were spamming the online chat feature with disrespectful comments aimed at both the professor and TA during the lesson. The Redditor claimed that the students were “disgusting” and that it’s time for them to take off the “pampers.”
Though it serves as no excuse for such behaviour, experiencing the latter two years of high school online may play a role in the inability to recognize and adapt to different social situations. The same concept can be extended to younger children who experiencing critical stages in life, including elementary school and pre-school in a pandemic.
Children of this new era also differ greatly in social conformity as it pertains to the virtual aspect. With the rise of TikTok in the last couple years (and even more through the pandemic), it has made it increasingly convenient for influencers to post unachievable standards of beauty, looks and lifestyles that are nothing but meticulously designed highlight reels of reality.
Nonetheless, it has effectively resulted in children gaining an increased urge to conform to these standards. Where many of today’s adults can recall dressing themselves in Disney-themed t-shirts as kids, they’re shocked to learn that their younger siblings are sporting the latest TikTok outfits, complete with Nike crewnecks and Air Jordan 1s.
Whether this conformity is rooted in self-esteem issues or something more positive in nature will differ from person to person.
Some of the admirable things that have resulted from placing social media on a pedestal are the increased conversations surrounding social issues such as mental health, racial and gender discrimination and climate change.
Today’s youth have become more comfortable with speaking out and having difficult conversations about these issues that generations before them may have been rather hesitant to.
It seems that adults can’t make up their minds on whether they wish to applaud today’s youth or condemn them. The only certain thing is that their lives and the lives of future generations will continue to evolve much like the world will. There’s no stopping that.
C/O Patrick Malleret, Unsplash
TikTok and Instagram’s image of “that girl” is not the only way to live a fulfilling life
TikTok has slowly developed an unhealthy obsession with a recent phenomenon termed “that girl.” For those unfamiliar with this trend, “that girl” refers to an individual (not necessarily a girl) who seemingly is well-put and has their life together.
“That girl” has a perfect routine that has made her fit, mentally healthy and motivated. Instagram and TikTok creators have been posting their daily routines in the promise of helping their followers also become “that girl.”
However, I strongly take issue with this newly risen phenomenon.
One of the less serious issues I have with these countless “routine videos” is the repetitiveness of it. In other words, every single influencer is telling you to do the exact same set of activities in order to achieve greatness. They only slightly change their wording and use varying camera shots and angles to differentiate themselves from other bloggers.
According to almost all of them, the pathway of success has four simple steps.
Firstly, you must wake unreasonably early between the hours of 5:00-6:00 am. Secondly, you are obliged to exercise and meditate immediately after you have woken up. Thirdly, you need to eat incredibly healthy and have a daily consumption of lemon water, avocado toast and berry smoothies. Finally, the last requirement is to replace all forms of technology with journaling.
And so forth, your phone addiction will slowly wear off and you will have a healthy obsession with journaling instead. I don't believe that these routines are inherently wrong, but rather disagree with the repetitiveness of them.
As I mentioned, almost all content creators are promoting the exact same and unvaried set of steps. This makes the audience question whether these four steps are truly the only route to success. One might ask themselves if they will ever achieve their goals if they don’t wake up early, exercise and eat healthy.
Unless it isn’t clear, no, the only way of achieving success is not through these four steps. To start, studies have shown that high productivity is not always linked to waking up early. Countless research articles have exhibited how some individuals are biologically more attentive and fresh in the morning, while others are more alert at night.
The same logic follows with replacing technology with journaling. Although it might be helpful to some, it’s not the objectively right method of accomplishing your goals.
To clarify, I don’t think that these routines are intentionally promoting the idea that these activities are objectively correct. However, social media can be incredibly toxic at times and swallow us in a tornado of insecurity, doubt and anxiety.
When we constantly see these routines, more often than not we doubt ourselves and our abilities. We question whether we’re behind in the “race of success” since we’re not following their advised typical four steps.
In these situations, we often have to take a step back, understand our individual situation and then proceed to make a decision on whether these routines are the best choice for us. If so, then great!
However, if not, we need to understand how it’s not a favourable routine for our lifestyle to immobilize the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity early on.
C/O Denver Della-Vedova
Denver Della-Vedova is running to be MSU president again, albeit with an updated campaign
Della-Vedova fails to commit fully to many of his platform points and lacks detail regarding consultation, raising questions about feasibility.
Della-Vedova proposes a $1 fee per student to assist the Undergraduates of Research Intensive Universities with hiring staff and covering costs of lobbying. However, his plan does not denote any reasoning behind this number nor does he provide detail on whom he will work with within the MSU to implement this fee.
He plans to prioritize environmental sustainability in his platform; however, he only addresses the problem of non-reusable and non-compostable food packaging. Given that La Piazza has already introduced compostable options for cutlery, Della-Vedova's commitment to introduce more eco-friendly containers does not detail which areas he hopes to address.
His plan to establish stronger relationships with faculty societies is vague. He suggests spending pooled resources between the MSU and faculty societies during events such as Welcome Week, which he hopes will encourage cross-faculty events. However, he makes no explanation of what these resources will be or whom he will work with to implement this. He states that he has consulted with a number of faculty societies but does not share any further detail as to which faculties these are.
He also plans to better connect Student Representative Assembly caucuses with their respective faculty societies but does not clarify how he will accomplish this.
Regarding Della-Vedova's discussion of creating student jobs, he states that he will try to create more jobs on campus for students and investigate ways to potentially connect students with jobs in Hamilton. However, he has not yet reached out to any employers on campus nor any businesses in Hamilton.
Della-Vedova states that he will work with employers such as the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence and the David Braley Athletic Centre to find more job opportunities for students. However, he has not consulted with PACE or DBAC on whether an increase in student positions is feasible.
In addition, Della-Vedova proposes the hiring of a “hype crew” within the Communications and Media department to focus on sprit and brand engagement for the MSU and increase student engagement in events. Yet, Della-Vedova fails to differentiate this from the MSU Maroons who already acts as a representative of the MSU and plays an active role in showing spirit in the community.
To inform first-year students of their housing rights, Della-Vedova proposes in-person legal clinics within residences. However, he intends to have the First Year Council host these sessions, which fails to consider that FYC members are first-year students themselves. This presents a potential issue as first-year students may lack the experience and knowledge to inform their peers.
With mental health impacts more prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic, Della-Vedova’s plans to address mental health concerns are valuable.
Although Della-Vedova did not reach out to the SWC to consult on the feasibility of expanded programming specifically, Rosanne Kent, director of the SWC, said that Della-Vedova has been actively working with the centre throughout his presidency this year. Kent shared that increased capacity is an ongoing goal the SWC strives for, with capacity already being increased this year.
Aside from expanding the SWC, Della-Vedova plans to create an online booking system, which was also proposed in his 2021 platform. However, no mention of the booking system was noted in any of his president reports in his current term. He states that this year’s approach would be different from last year’s, as he would see what the MSU could offer in the development of this system. However, details about what the development would look like and how the MSU would help were not provided.
Della-Vedova commits to making online classes more accessible and consistent for students. His plan for how to accomplish this is to produce a set of standardized recommendations for professors running online classes. However, the specifics of these guidelines are unclear and, further, some of the issues that Della-Vedova highlights, such as the quality of lectures, are difficult to quantify and would thus be challenging to address with a set of guidelines.
Further, Della-Vedova plans to have these guidelines encourage use of fewer platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom more consistently, rather than the wide range of software that the university currently uses. However, Della-Vedova does not address how different platforms may, in some cases, be better suited to the needs of a particular course.
In Della-Vedova's discussion of issues related to Student Accessibility Services, he points out that requiring students to provide a diagnosis from within the last five years poses a major accessibility obstacle; however, he makes no commitment to attempting to change this policy.
Lastly, when Della-Vedova discusses SAS, he suggests that McMaster offers rewards to notetakers, such as references or gift cards. However, references are already being offered to notetakers as rewards. Additionally, regarding gift cards, Della-Vedova does not outline how he would ensure that such rewards could be acquired and distributed.
Throughout his platform, Della-Vedova proposes ideas that he hopes to further investigate. He does not offer many concrete and actionable plans demonstrated by the evident lack of consultation with relevant university members.
C/O Nick Fewings, Unsplash
YWCA Hamilton workshops address unique mental health experiences among 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers
Just a few months ago, Canada was experiencing a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and life was finally beginning to feel normal again. More Canadians were becoming fully vaccinated against the virus, further restrictions were loosening and McMaster University students were expecting an in-person start of the winter semester.
However, case counts, reopening plans and holiday trips all took a sharp turn with the emergence of the new SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant and concerns around mental health in the pandemic were again exacerbated.
In response to the ongoing mental health challenges, YWCA Hamilton’s Join program, Speqtrum and the RISE Collective hosted a three-part workshop with guest speaker Abrar Mechmechia, a mental health counsellor based in Hamilton, on navigating mental health for 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers from November to January.
The Join program is a settlement program for women, youth and 2SLGBTQIA+ immigrants; Speqtrum is a skill-sharing and community building program for 2SLGBTQIA+ youths; and the RISE Collective is a youth-led collective for women, non-binary and gender fluid youths.
The first workshop of the series on Nov. 17 discussed pandemic exhaustion and its impact on mental health.
“[We] talked about noticing our bodies and . . . skills and reflections we could be doing to better understand our inner self,” said Noura Afify, 2SLGBTQIA+ Newcomer Youth Support Worker.
The second workshop on Dec. 1 addressed the effects of trauma and triggers on mental health. For many 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers and other marginalized folks, pandemic fatigue compounded with pre-existing trauma results in unique mental health challenges.
The third workshop on Jan. 5 focused on self-coping tools and how to navigate the mental health system.
At the workshops, Mechmechia also shared some of her findings from a survey of youths between the ages 15-29 in Canada to measure the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and well-being of marginalized youth and identify accessibility barriers to mental health services.
The preliminary findings from the survey highlighted key issues in accessibility of mental health services, financial barriers, lack of cultural competency, ineffective treatment, stigma and academic support.
For instance, 98% of respondents reported receiving long-term affordable care was a challenge. Cultural incompetency also led to folks being unable to access or not seeking help again. Those in school or post-secondary education reported increases in workload and the need for peer support programs.
The survey was a part of Mechmechia’s In This Together campaign, which launched in February 2021, to call on the federal and provincial governments to establish a post-pandemic mental health recovery plan for youths, especially for those who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, newcomers, disabled or 2SLGBTQIA+.
Based on the research, Mechmechia and team highlighted the importance of increasing affordability and accessibility of mental health services, investing in ethnocultural services and providers and offering holistic support. They have also written an open letter to the government outlining recommendations to improve the current mental health support for youth, including the implementation of the post-pandemic mental health recovery plan. The letter has been endorsed by over 300 folks.
Despite the low turnout to the newcomer workshop series which took place on Zoom and challenges using interpreters for group sessions, Afify says it was well-received by the folks who participated.
“Folks were sharing and opening up. They were also understanding each other and compassionate towards each other sharing. I really enjoyed that part and that to me is a success in itself — that folks felt safe enough in this space to share and explore ideas and exchange information about how we cope differently and accept,” said Afify.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental health are leading to a global mental health crisis. Particularly for marginalized folks who are already healing from or dealing with existing traumas, the added stress and complexity of the pandemic has created further burden and barriers. The past workshops are one of the many programs and services offered by the YWCA, Speqtrum, RISE Collective and the In This Together campaign to address this challenge.
There are workshops and events lined up for newcomers, youth, women and folks in marginalized communities every day at the YMCA. Speqtrum will also have a session on navigating gender affirming healthcare with live interpretations for newcomers and an at-home treasure hunt coming up.
C/O Vitolda Klein, Unsplash
Chasing perfection is a societal ideal that rarely benefits the one chasing
Recently, I have noticed how often the term "perfectionism" is thrown around. Nowadays, it seems as if everyone is a proud perfectionist who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.
Their sense of perfectionism will appear in their work ethic, study habits and even personal relationships. In spite of the rise of perfectionism in the last decade, I have had a difficult time understanding the glorification of this phenomenon.
To be clear, I don’t believe that individuals willingly fall into the trap of perfectionism. It's often society that pushes us towards perfectionist behaviours as we are incessantly told from a young age to improve and polish every aspect of our life that might be slightly blemished.
From our parents to our schools, to our mentors, we are told how the “real world” holds high standards that we have to live up to. Time after time, we have been told how achieving greatness stems from perfect work ethics, perfect grades and a perfect attitude.
Because of these harsh statements, many of us have been conditioned to only judge ourselves and our accomplishments on a zero to perfect scale — meaning if our work is not performed perfectly, it might as well deserve a zero.
For example, we often don’t feel proud if we score a 90% since our immediate thought is how we could have potentially achieved a 100%, but failed to do so. We slowly start losing happiness and joy because accomplishments are no longer satisfying if they are not “perfect.”
In fact, over 60% of McMaster students reported feeling higher than average levels of stress in a 2017 survey, leading to concerns about the effects of chronic stress in university students.
However, I must say that I don’t believe that perfectionism is entirely devoid of value. In fact, science has proven that “healthy perfectionism” exists. Studies have stated how in some cases perfectionism can often be a driving source to perform your absolute best and achieve the highest of accomplishments.
However, I must question, how thin is the line between “healthy perfectionism” and obsessive perfectionism? Can individuals who fall into the trap of perfectionism in their work life keep it detached from their personal lives? Wouldn’t relationships, hobbies and activities done for the sheer joy of it deteriorate if perfection is the only given option?
“The most evil trick about perfectionism is that it disguises itself as a virtue,” stated author Rebecca Solnit.
This quote excellently explains why so many individuals fall into the trap of perfectionism. They do so as they believe that this could increase their quality of work and they could reach perfection. However, the unfortunate truth is that the concept of anything ‘perfect’ is erroneous. Often, because individuals cannot define ‘perfect’, they assume they aren't reaching it, making perfectionism a never-ending cycle.
Candidly, we must take a step and ask ourselves, how are we defining a ‘perfect job’ or a ‘perfect relationship’? Or whether a ‘perfect grade’ is truly worth it, if it comes at the cost of our mental health?
We cannot let the false and outdated definition of perfectionism gain control over our decisions. In a world that is so cruel and chaotic at times, it’s foolish to rob ourselves from experiencing the simple joys of life.
C/O McMaster Sports
As the Cross Country season ends, there is a lot to be proud of and a lot to look forward to
Over the past couple of months, the cross country and track teams have been finding significant success through several points in their season. Previously, Alex Drover, a fourth-year cross country veteran, won the first Athlete of the Week award of the season in recognition of his exceptional performance at an Ontario University Athletics competition, where he placed first overall.
On Nov. 20, the cross country team took part in the nationwide U Sports Cross Country/Track Nationals. This year, the event took place in Quebec City, at the historic Plains of Abraham. The competition featured numerous turns and hills, which made the race very challenging for the schools involved.
Throughout the Cross Country Nationals, the best performer for the McMaster Marauders was Andrew Davies. Davies finished just short of fourth place in the men's eight kilometre race, with an impressive time of 24:38, which had him 10.5 seconds off the winner of the race, Mitchell Ubene, of the Guelph Gryphons.
Although Davies did miss out on the podium for the 8k race, he did not miss the chance to end up at the podium with the rest of the team, as the Marauders ended up third on the podium, earning themselves a bronze medal with a collective score of 79 points. The only schools to place above the Marauders were the hosts, Université Laval Rouge et Or and Guelph Gryphons, finishing first and second respectively.
Davies, the best runner among the Marauders at the nationals, and his teammate, Max Turek, were both awarded an All-Canadian Bid for their amazing performances in Quebec.
Although the overall results of the Marauders were impressive, Davies did express some level of disappointment with the final results.
“Although we did make the podium, I can’t say that I was particularly happy with our performance as a whole. I personally think that we could have won the whole nationals. We definitely have the potential to do so, but it just wasn't our day,” said Davies.
When asked about his achievement of earning an All-Canadian bid, Davies suggested that he expected to win it based on his strong performance in the race.
“I sort of knew that I was going to get it because I was near the top in the first team. My personal performance was good that day so I saw it coming. Obviously, I am honored to get something like this and it does mean a lot to me,” said Davies.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the runner and his ability to train were mixed. The lockdowns had both physical and mental impacts and changed the way he trained and performed later on.
“To be honest, COVID-19 did not have a massive training effect on me. I was still able to train alone, since we are runners and we don't need partners to do so. If anything, it did sort of help me physically stay in shape because there was no pressure of any race coming up, so I had more time to prepare for whatever was coming next,” explained Davies.
However, Davies did state that the pandemic did have a toll on his mental wellbeing and created a lot of difficulty for his training and mental preparation.
When asked about the future, Davies explained he is certain that there is much more potential within the team and that they could return even stronger next year.
“I think that we can do even better next season. Although some of our runners won't be eligible, many of our best athletes will be staying for another year. There are also some younger runners who have a lot of potential. So, I see us excelling over the next couple of years for sure,” said Davies.
Although the nationals are over for this year, there will be plenty of opportunities for the track and cross country athletes to show their worth next year, when the new season will bring plenty of excitement for all involved.
“Yeah, I’m totally fine.”
The human body is incredible, isn’t it? It’s capable of so much — all we have to do is train it and trust that it will keep up with any physical exertions that are inflicted. It suffices to say that most of us have gotten quite good at inferring the consequences that our dietary intakes and lifestyles would have on the mechanical aspects of our bodies.
To train for any sport, for example basketball, athletes train and appropriately fuel their bodies in order to perform on the court.
If one can infer these things for physical well-being, what about the stuff that goes on inside your head? Though the conversations around mental health have substantially improved, it seems to me that many are more invested in its social advocacy rather than its implementation to reality, especially when it concerns themselves.
Everyone experiences stress from time to time. In fact, you’re probably experiencing some form of it as you’re reading this right now. The type of stress holds a lot more significance than one might assume.
Episodes of acute stress, that can cause an individual to do things like type at godspeed at 11:56 PM, elicit the “fight or flight” response. This goes on to increase cortisol and adrenaline levels and blood pressure.
Chronic stress may develop if these moments of acute stress are prolonged, or if the stressors themselves are there to stay, such as the steady demands of university workloads.
The never-ending drone of monotone lectures, awkward tutorials, labs with clocks that definitely tick faster and tedious group assignments often cause students to disregard obvious signs of mental health deterioration. The combination of all that pressure can result in “burnout,” otherwise known as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.
This can leave a person unmotivated, anxious or cynical, the consequences of which may be disastrous.
McMaster’s mental health resources, which include outlets to gain information, will tell you no different. In addition to facilitating mental health education, McMaster offers several other resources such as guided self-help, peer support, student services, phone lines and even mental health crisis support.
However, you didn’t need me to tell you that. The majority of McMaster’s student body is aware that some form of mental health support exists, much like it does at most post-secondary institutions.
Why, then, might one ask that recognizing and being aware of mental health is still a concern, if not a greater one than before? This can be explained, in my opinion, through a combination of two factors, the first of which may be quite apparent: the onset of remote learning and the assumption of immunity.
Let’s break this down.
As discussed by many before, a shift to online learning has meant fewer in-person interactions with peers, more uncertainties about daily scheduling and a decreased sense of structure.
Though manageable and perhaps even beneficial for a short period of time, the stretch of its duration has resulted in added layers of concern such as employment terminations and financial hardships, all of which contribute to mental health deteriorations. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, 46 per cent of Ontario students reported feelings of depression and a whopping 65 per cent experienced overwhelming anxiety. Imagine the numbers now.
It also shouldn’t be a surprise that these layers affect different students to varying degrees when you account for initial socioeconomic states that are often influenced by social identities, race and ethnicity.
Now that we’ve established a plausible source for increased mental health concerns, what’s stopping students from acknowledging them — let alone seeking support? People love to overestimate their own abilities and qualities, which is a form of cognitive bias that’s explained by the illusory superiority theory.
This is where things can get dangerous. While it’s important to push yourself to reach your fullest potential, it’s just as important to know when to pause. The problem with assuming immunity is that students may overestimate their abilities and continue to pile on work while convincing themselves that “they’re fine.”
So how does one swallow their pride and seek help? The solution may seem blatantly obvious and one that I’m sure you’ve heard countless times: find balance. Remember that, even though school may be quite demanding, it’s important to schedule in TikTok-less breaks and spend them doing things that you enjoy. Take a breather. After all, timeouts and half-times exist for a reason.
C/O Emily Underworld, Unsplash
Do 24 hours truly suffice for such a complex topic?
On Oct. 10, 1992, Global Mental Health Day was introduced to the world. The day aims to bring attention to mental health and educate the public. Corporations, groups and the general public try their best to open as many discussions about mental health as they can.
However, this day dedicated to the conversation that pertains to mental health is a widely debated topic. Amelia J. Joseph, one of McMaster University’s associate professors in the School of Social Work, tweeted about this day. Joseph questioned whether or not a single day in itself can truly make the difference it hopes to achieve.
Zeinab Khawaja, a health promotor at the McMaster Student Wellness Centre, described how the SWC views Mental Health Day and how it ties into their work.
“I think any opportunity that highlights mental health [is] a good thing to have, but for [SWC], it is a year-round thing where we are trying to educate people around different mental health and well-being topics . . . It is something we are focusing on all the time, so Mental Health Day is just one extra day where, maybe, more people are talking about it,” explained Khawaja.
Khawaja spoke about how extending conversations pertaining to mental health beyond one day can come from the little things.
“For me, it is small things, like being honest when someone asks you how you are doing. Checking in on your friends, being vulnerable and taking risks. Sometimes it is sharing what you are struggling with instead of pretending you are not or that you shouldn’t be. I think the more people who take that little bit of a risk to acknowledge what’s going on with themselves, the less stigmatized it gets,” said Khawaja.
Though the SWC offers opportunities for communication, many students often find that when they do try to reach out they are left more confused than when they had started.
Anisah Ali, a second-year health and society student with a mental health specialization, spoke about their own experiences with mental health.
“As I’ve grown older, Mental Health Day is still important in terms of destigmatizing mental health in general, but I don’t think it creates sufficient change for those that do experience mental health issues,” said Ali.
Ali is one student that has experience using SWC resources.
“I went to them for help and they were nice in terms of hearing me out which helps because someone was there to listen. They would provide me tips on anxiety, for example, but it wasn’t sufficient enough in terms of fundamental changes to handle these things better in your life,” explained Ali.
Lucas Mei, a second-year linguistics student, also accessed SWC’s counselling service. When Mei called the SWC seeking immediate help, the SWC presented him with times to speak with a counsellor that were weeks or months away. Mei explained that the experience was frustrating so he ended up not booking an appointment at all.
“I ended up hanging up the phone because that was ridiculous,” said Mei.
Mei added that there was no follow-up from anyone in SWC after the phone call. Though he was disappointed with the way it was all handled, he was aware it was because of the shortage of counsellors for this particular service.
Abrar Khan, a second-year in electrical engineering, also had difficulty finding mental health resources while studying from out of the country. For Khan, it wasn’t clear where he could access resources or who he was supposed to contact.
Unfortunately, Khan said that he did not end up receiving the help he needed. Khan believes resources like these should be attached to more student familiar sites such as Mosaic.
Brenda and Cinthiya, co-presidents of MSU COPE, a student mental health initiative, talked about how vital it is to keep the conversation going beyond just a single day.
“We all need time to take a step back and look at where we are, so [Mental Health Day] gives a specific day to tune into ourselves. The landscape is constantly changing and it’s a reminder of where we are and what we have to do to get to where we want to be,” said Brenda.
“It is important to acknowledge that just because it’s Mental Health Day doesn’t mean it is the only time to acknowledge mental health,” explained Cinthiya.
Anika Anand, Director of MSU’s Student Health Education Center, also shared similar sentiments in terms of Mental Health Day and its effectiveness. She added that institutions, like McMaster, can foster a more open environment.
“Bell is notorious for having this yearly ‘Let’s talk day’ but their working conditions are also notorious for being extremely toxic and unhealthy for their workers. So I look at, not necessarily McMaster, but the McMaster Student Union and I look at the way they are treating their part-time managers, who are running each of these student-run clubs. The work environment is completely toxic and I think that if you’re going to talk about mental health on Mental Health Day, you have an inherent responsibility to start working actively to make your organizations have an environment in which that is even possible,” explained Anand.
The discussion of academics and the culture it breeds came into the discussion as well.
“I think that professors need access to adequate training, not necessarily to treat mental health problems because they are not health care professionals or crisis responders, but they are people who are trusted, or at least they are supposed to be,” said Anand.
Anand added that there is a disconnect between the accommodations provided by the Student Accessibility Services and how different professors handle students requesting accommodations.
“It needs to be more connected. So that we build a sense of community because, as we all know, community connections lead to better mental wellness,” explained Anand.
Mental health is a topic that affects each and every single person differently. Though a day like this may be vital to opening the door to deeper conversations, continuing them everyday is what can truly create the difference.