More to the story than stress

Looking at a couple of issues, a pat answer seems more like a dismissal

There are a few things on my mind this week, and none really stands out, so I’ll touch on each.


A UTMSU exec wrote a letter (to be read on the facing page) on what he believes is a failing of the university to serve students, instead raising fees. Okay—same old, same old. But something in there frustrated me. It was the claim that high tuition fees have a direct impact on mental health, and a second time, that it’s “one of the core causes” of mental health issues. This seems to be a page taken from the current VP equity, who last year said on Facebook that high fees were the “root cause” of mental health problems among students.

It would be nice if they could back up generalizations like that. I won’t make a snap judgement on it. It’s a complicated topic. Yes, it’s true that there are correlations between financial difficulties and rates of poor mental health. I’ve known households where financial stresses create volatile family dynamics, and a person’s breakdown can certainly be provoked by instability in the home.

Indeed, even our features section this week includes an article on a study in which researchers found that children from lower-income families had worse mental health (as measured by their having given less accurate responses to factual questions—an odd metric, in my mind, but then I’m not in psychology or sociology).

But this bare relationship is far from the entire story. For one thing, an application of the pattern to chronic issues is unintuitive. Consider the guest writer of last week’s editorial, Larissa Ho. The implication that situations like hers among students would be greatly alleviated by reduced financial pressure is at best demeaning.

Moreover, the trend of rising mental health issues among students is a massive and frightening one—I’m always reminded of a Maclean’s article (“The mental health crisis on campus”, 2012)  in which the use of health and counselling centres by students in crisis situations relating to stress, anxiety, and depression was reported to have doubled or grown exponentially in Canadian (and some American) universities. That pace is far ahead of tuition increases, and is not province-specific, which relates to the oft-quoted statistic that Ontarians pay the highest tuition in Canada.

These facts very strongly point to a deeper, more serious problem. And what frustrates me is that, in this one branch of action, at least, the message from UTMSU isn’t constructive. Chanting about dropping fees is fine, but does nothing to address the real causes. There are other programs by UTMSU that do a better job of addressing it; great. But this particular line of attack stems from a chronic lack of innovation on the part of student politicians in general to think of other solutions—or rather slogans—than “We want to pay less.”

Besides, the students’ union itself is about to propose fee increases at the Campus Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday. They’re seeking increases to the U-Pass levy, among other smaller things. But they’re not exactly mounting an attack on our health. 


While we’re on the subject of student stress, let’s talk about a longstanding means to unwind: the Blind Duck Pub. It’s been a place to eat, socialize, and perhaps have a beer (depending on your social and religious persuasions, I suppose) for about as long as UTM has existed, although it’s traded buildings a couple of times.

But one thing has changed: in the early days, the pub was open on Friday nights and Saturdays, and was a pretty popular hangout.

It’s not the most important question to ask, but why has that changed? Why does it close, of all things, earlier on Friday than on other days?

When I asked last year’s president, Raymond Noronha, about it, he said there wouldn’t be enough students using the pub at those times to make staffing it profitable.

Hmm. Maybe true, maybe not. But why not do a trial run and find out?

And even if those hours are unprofitable, it’s not like the pub is profitable in general. It depends on a massive annual advance of tens of thousands of student dollars from UTMSU that serve as a donation to keep it running. (Yes, you pay for the pub indirectly even if you never eat there.) The least they can do is keep it open for you. Which, by the by, they can afford to do. UTMSU is sitting on a pile of over $1.1 million accumulated student dollars, after all.

Sure, maybe the issue isn’t at the front of students’ minds (except on Friday afternoon when they find the doors closed at 4 p.m.). But if we want a space for UTM students to relax, a place to allow them to engage more easily, a general improvement of the services and quality of life they get, why not deal with it?

Have a good Reading Week!


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