Thank you Mr. Rock for writing your opinion article in the University of Ottawa’s Independent Student Newspaper, Fulcrum. I never read it until I saw the words, “I found it hard to admit to myself that I had a mental health issue,” across the front page. Thank you for taking the time to share a vulnerable time in your life. Thank you for sharing the services available to students on campus. Still, I have to disagree with you writing about the changes to mental health services available on campus. There is still limited access to confidential counselling and from what is available, there are still long waiting lists.
I arrived in Ottawa last Fall. I was a first year common law student at the University. I was excited, nervous and anxious all at the same time. I knew what I needed to do to help me become more situated in Ottawa: finding a family doctor. I called the University of Ottawa health services asking for a doctor who was accepting patients. I was able to get into to see a doctor not shortly after this call and I am grateful for this doctor. However, at the time, I was facing extremely stressful situations (from harassment to abusive online targeting/stalking)–situations that are hard to explain because the usual questions that follow insinuate that I don’t know what is going on with my life. It was not long that I had to ask this doctor for help with thoughts that I didn’t want to deal with anymore: suicidal ideation. I had these thoughts before and I knew that I needed help by talking to someone, to help me deal with the stress of having these thoughts.
One day, I told my doctor that I was feeling anxious again and that I needed help with medication. I hate taking the medication but I know that I need some extra help sometimes because the cute, warm, fuzzy “let’s meditate” to get over anxiety doesn’t always work for me. She began asking questions: do you believe you are being followed? Well, it depends. Do you believe that people are after you? Well, it depends. I left that meeting with my doctor that worse off than I had gone in. I felt alone, isolated, and frustrated. I left feeling scared that my doctor may call the police (because that has happened before) all in an effort to “protect” me and I took the rest of the day off. My appointment to see someone wasn’t until December and the first time I asked for help? October. These are from the same services you list as being easier to access in your article. Sure, I am thankful for my doctor and I am thankful she listens to me today.
At the time, however, I tried to call all the numbers you listed in your article and I asked to talk to someone in person. I already know that talking on the phone doesn’t help me. I already know that if I talk openly about my suicidal ideation that there is the possibility that I could have police barging into my apartment, knocking down my door (yes, that has happened before). And after I phoned a few numbers, I experienced the ole’ “we are too busy until months from now” just as you had experienced many years before.
As an Indigenous student, one of many on campus, I know that I am not alone. We exist in a strange world where we want to be successful but the burden of sometimes being alone and away from family for a long time doesn’t help. Today, I am able to have a prescription for the medication that I need to help me through those hard times but I am still without counselling on campus. I am paying (thankfully I have a friend who does offer these services) for a counsellor who can understand and appreciate my unique experiences as an Indigenous woman with sex working experience (because of the stigma associated with sex work, the discrimination I experience from mental health/health professionals prevents me from talking openly about the help I need).
So, my story isn’t unique. There are other Indigenous students, like me, with similar experiences on campus. While I thank you for sharing your story and for introducing me to the student newspaper (because I would have never read it otherwise), I still believe that the university has a lot of work to do in terms of mental health services they offer to the students, especially the Indigenous students.
Concerned Indigenous law student.