The UW Chevron

online version of uwaterloo's independent press

Category: Issue 2


by Amanda-Jean Hennick

University is stressful for all of us; in every student’s life there has been, or will come a time, when they are stressed about some aspect of their school work. Even the most “well-adjusted” individuals often fall into this habit, but for those of us who aren’t so well adjusted, it’s a bit of a different story.

As a student who suffers first hand from mental illness, I know what the stress of university can do, how it can affect what underlying problems are already there, and how it can inflate these issues and make them seem completely unmanageable. In his 2008 paper, “How Big a Problem is Anxiety?”, Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D. claimed that “[t]he average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s”. Add to this the pressures of tuition, increased work loads, and possibly working a part- or full-time job on the side, it is no wonder that when it comes to mental illness, university students are at a heightened risk.

No one can deny that university is stressful on one level or another and some are able to handle it better than others, but for those who can’t, stress is a major factor in mental illness and disorders. Tobias Esch, M.D. said that “[s]tress, in general, has been demonstrated to be part of mechanisms related to anxiety, and chronic stress, involving chronic sympathetic activation, has specifically been linked to the onset of anxiety and depression. In particular, stress may actually mediate, promote, or even cause mental disorders like depression.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one-fifth of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Of Canadian youth, one-tenth to one-fifth are affected by a mental illness or mental health disorder, so it is not surprising that at a university of about thirty thousand students, you could find some of that fifth.

When asked about university life in relation to stress, one Waterloo student said, “As someone who suffers from stress-triggered anxiety, depression, and related sleep disorders, university is a huge struggle. I struggle every day not to break down in anxiety over the amount of work and stress university creates,” and when asked if and how UW Accessibility was able to help, they responded “Accessibility is really good for those with physical disabilities, or people with anxiety where they need extra time or a quieter environment to take exams. But for people like me with stress-related heightened anxiety, there’s really not much they can do. They’ve been helpful with fixing conflicts for me, but as for the more regularities of my anxiety the only thing
I could do, would be to take less courses and see if that works.” Strides have been made to accommodate people with disabilities, but this help is not reaching everyone effectively, and many subtler difficulties are in need of better recognition.

A former Waterloo student, when asked about how the stress of university affected their many mental disorders (depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, and anxiety) they answered “It simply made all of them exponentially worse. I stopped functioning properly and I stopped being me.” Not only did their symptoms get worse, but they were worsened again when introduced to anti-psychotics. Instead of helping, the medication actually deteriorated their well-being. “I hated the meds; they screwed with me and caused things like insomnia and a stutter. I would have preferred therapy.” When asked how the medication made them feel specifically, they had this to say: “Numb. I had shakes, stuttering, lack of sleep, I felt empty, sometimes angry.” This is of course, not to say that medication never works; according to Dr. Tim Kenny, every 8 out of 10 patients benefit from anti-psychotics.

Unfortunately, the students mentioned above are not the only ones to have a disdain for medication. Abby Andrews, a student from Queen’s University had this to say: “A student who reaches out for help and is instead given a rushed prescription can be turned off from seeking help. That’s what happened to me. I’ve been on anti-depressants for three years, and the doctor who prescribed them to me has never followed up. I now rely on medicine to balance the level of serotonin in my brain, and I’m skeptical as to whether I need it. A bottle of pills isn’t personal support. That day, the doctor handed me a list of therapists in the city that would be able to help me. I felt that I was being passed off to someone else because the school couldn’t deal with me. I had been outsourced.”

The mental health of students is not going unnoticed. In fact, the Canadian Federation of Students in Nova Scotia (CFSNS) launched a campaign meant to raise awareness about student mental health on campus, and to pressure post-secondary schools and the provincial government to invest more towards student mental health. Unfortunately, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness, there are no plans to increase funding for mental health at this time. Thankfully, although it seems that our schools will not yet be increasing funds, the University of Waterloo Mental Health Services offer a wide variety of help to aid people with anxiety, depression, problems sleeping, OCD, and other mental illnesses that are often triggered by stress. Services include counselling, crisis intervention, psychodiagnosis, psychotherapy, educational support and more. The University also offers more unconventional ways of managing stress such as petting puppies. In April of last year, students were able to go to the REC room in the Renison University College and pet puppies to relieve stress, which is one therapy I personally hope they continue.

As someone who understands the stress of university, along with the struggles of mental illness, I reach out to all those who suffer in silence. Although mental illness is sometimes still seen
as taboo, it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is as real and as difficult as many physical illnesses and disorders and if it is interfering with your everyday life, I urge you to seek out the help that you need. If there is one thing I have learned in my short time here at UW, it is that no matter what, no matter how it seems, you are not alone.

[Editor’s note: Have you expe-
rienced problems with stress
or mental health problems at
UW? Let us know about your
experiences. Anonymity will
be preserved as desired.


Demilitarize McGill: Questionable research on campuses

by Amy Rose Gofton

The university as an institution is a place of learning, but it is also a place of research. Demilitarize McGill, an anti-military research and recruitment organization with an average membership of between 7 and 20 people, at McGill University understands the research side of the institution all too well. According to the Demilitarize website, they have a self-appointed mandate to “interrupt the University’s history of complicity in colonization and imperialist warfare by ending military collaboration at McGill.” In practice, this translates into an opposition of military research and recruitment on their campus.

Focusing on education and direct action, Demilitarize McGill has submitted Access To Information Requests to both their university and the military, run workshops and walking tours, and even blockaded research labs. One blockade, members of Demilitarize McGill say, “ended with the university adminis-
tration calling the Montreal police onto campus.” A banner was seized and protestors were forced to disperse, but no arrests were made.

Demilitarize McGill believes that allowing their university to continue military funded or aimed research on their campus perpetuates the “military-industrial complex.” In other words, they believe the research on their campus contributes to the ability of political, military and corporate actors to collaborate in the waging of wars. Unfortunately, universities—which receive both
public and private funding—serve as convenient places for these actors to exploit labour and resources, as they do not need to fully fund the research themselves.

The exposing of military research at McGill dates back to 1984, when journalists from the McGill Daily revealed the Canadian Department of Defence funded fuel-air explosives research on the campus. The current Demilitarize McGill, which was reincarnated in 2012, draws on the spirit of that discovery, and has uncovered a number of concerning research areas. They allege
that documents, obtained by an Access To Information Request, show that drone research at the university’s Mechatronics Lab received $380,000 from the Department of National Defence. Demilitarize McGill has also raised concerns about Missile Guidance research and anti-icing research for fighter jets. The group is es- pecially concerned with the continued work of the Shock Wave Physics group—a group Demilitarize McGill says was once directly funded by U.S grants.

More recently, Demilitarize McGill has raised concerns over a psychology study in which 80 Somali Canadians participated in a survey gathering information on identity issues. An article published by the Montreal Gazette says the survey studied the participant’s adjustment to life in Canada, but was also interested in what factors might lead them to
affiliations with terrorist organizations. The participants were not informed that funding for the study came from the DRDC (Defence Research and Development Canada). Although McGill
University says no rules were broken in not disclosing the funding for the study, Demilitarize McGill refers to it “as a serious breach of research ethics,” and vows to pressure
McGill University into creating better policy.

There is no question that military research has taken place and is taking place at McGill University, but what about our own campus? How much does the average student know about the
research that goes on here at the University of Waterloo? UW’s motto is that “ideas start here,” but how much attention does the average student really pay to those ideas? Every week or so, we
see the Waterloo Facebook page updated with news of new research: “Groundbreaking Study Reveals Best Sex Positions to Save Spines,” or “Very Low Nicotine Cigarettes May Reduce Addiction.” While much of the UW research we hear about sounds very ethical and at times very helpful, at a University of our size, which is constantly expanding, we must keep in mind the possibility if ethical breaches in research on campus. Demilitarize McGill, when asked how students at other universities (such as UW) can find out if military-related or ethically suspect research is taking place on their campus, recommended filing Access to Information Requests to the Department of National Defense and the University (as some military-related research is funded by private companies). “We also find lots of information just by doing internet research,” the group said. “It’s just a matter of digging up the details.” Demilitarize McGill said they are “very willing to help . . . students at other universities find out if . . . [military research] is going on where they are studying.”

What Demilitarize McGill has proved is that it is possible for students to discover and respond to policies that violate the right of students to study and work in an environment which does not contribute to the waging of war. If, at any time, research or university policy at UW crosses an ethical boundary, we as students must, and can, be prepared to raise a voice in complaint and take action to ensure that our University’s policies match the desires of its student body.

Students march on Schembri

by Thomas Little

On September 19th, angry and frustrated students who had signed leases to live at the currently-unfinished One Columbia apartment complex took their dispute (see article, “Construction delays leave students out in the cold”, in the previous issue) directly to Schembri Property Management, Inc. in the form of a march on Schembri’s office. The march also included a number of parents and community members, as well as this Chevron writer. The march came after One Columbia tenants, upset at Schembri’s poor handling of construction delays, were denied the ability to terminate their leases with Schembri, which would have allowed them to rent elsewhere instead of being temporarily housed in hotel rooms as far away as Cambridge and Guelph.

After gathering at the corner of Columbia Street and Albert Street, the march proceeded to the Schembri office on Columbia Street, gaining participants as it went until the participants numbered about thirty-five to forty people, not including the media. The marchers went inside the Schembri office building and up the stairs to a manager’s office, where Alex Diceanu of WPIRG (Waterloo Public Interest Research Group) informed the Schembri employees of what was going on and explained the students’ grievance. One Columbia tenants also went forward to present the
manager with demand letters asking for their cash deposits to be returned to them.

After delivering the demand letters, the tenants and their supporters left the building and gathered in front of it to have their photographs taken with a Schembri rental sign. Four Waterloo Regional Police cruisers appeared, but most left after several minutes.

At all times, the march seemed well-organized and good-natured but determined. While Schembri tenants may have been able to tolerate a few days in temporary accommodations, as construction on the building drags on and midterms approach, the situation is likely to heat up. As well, the Landlord and Tenant Board hearing for the first group of Schembri students to file claims will happen today, Tuesday, September 30th. The outcome of those hearings are likely to determine how the situation unfolds and should be watched carefully.

For those interested in attending, the hearing will happen at 10:00 am on Tuesday, at the Hauser House, Waterloo Memorial Complex, 101 Father David Bauer Drive. It is accessible from campus by
a short walk through Waterloo Park, or by taking Westmount Road going south and turning onto Father David Bauer Drive.

Feds GM Soon

The Editorial Collective

The time for the next Federation of Students General Meeting is approaching. Readers who were following campus events last year might recall the growing numbers of students participating in these meetings and winning victories such as the long-awaited Feds backing for a Clubs Library in the Student Life Centre. Students who are interested in submitting motions only have until midnight on October 4th, so be quick! Hopefully this GM will be as eventful as past ones were.

At the Chevron, we are happy to have received so many emails offering various kinds of assistance or from students who want to become involved. However, we still encourage anyone who is interested in working with us to send us an email. Even if you don’t want to commit much time to the Chevron or work on it regularly, we also welcome responses to our articles if you have anything you want to share.