The guilty-until-proven-innocent policy Ryerson has in place for a missed assignment is failing students with mental health concerns.
A missed exam or assignment due to illness must be accounted for with a Ryerson Medical Certificate with proper letterhead, filled out by the student’s doctor within three days of the due date. A common cold is rarely an acceptable excuse. This has been the policy since I started at Ryerson, drilled into students’ heads verbally and in writing with the beginning of each new term.
It’s meant to help students, but ends up harming the grades of many. Mental health is not so black and white. Wait-lists for psychiatrists and counsellors can take months. Diagnoses take more than one appointment. Medications can take weeks to take effect. Uncertainties and stigma surrounding mental illness prevent people from seeking help in the first place. World Health Organization states that only two in every five people experiencing a mood, anxiety or substance use disorder seek treatment, meaning that for every two people who seek mental health help, there are three that don’t.
Last year, around the time I felt my first symptoms of depression, Maclean’s Magazine published a feature on the increase of Canadian students with mental health concerns. The article cites a study in which about half of student participants said they had felt “overwhelming anxiety” and that “things were hopeless.” The 200 per cent increase in demand for appointments at Ryerson’s Centre for Development and Counselling last year certainly brings the crisis close to home.
No immediate appointment means no doctor’s note. Without a doctor’s note, students like me are forced to risk our health for assignments or face the wrath of an incomplete. While dealing with overwhelming mental stress, we simply cannot produce the quality of work that we’re capable of. Once I got over my personal shame of failing every single test I took my third year and began talking openly about the problem, a shocking amount of peers confided that they had gone through the same thing.
Ryerson’s Centre for Development and Counselling has hired additional counsellors. The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has launched a student helpline and provided over $1 million in funding for mental health innovation projects to Ryerson since early 2013. Solutions to the existing problem have been addressed but the issue remains rooted in strict deadlines and heavy workloads.
It’s time to look at mental health from a policy perspective. University campuses are the place where–overwhelmingly–anxiety disorders set in, according to a Maclean’s article also stating that today’s college students suffer from anxiety and depression at a higher rate than every generation since the 1930s. Coupled with the steep increase in demand for mental health resources on our campuses, this should be alarming to university officials. It’s the strict deadlines with intimidating consequences and pressure to succeed that lead to many cases of mental unrest, skewing students’ ability to work efficiently.
More leeway must be provided when it comes to vouching for a missed test or assignment, and providing accommodation for students that need it. Mental illness is real, and it’s everywhere, whether it’s proven with a doctor’s note or not.
Ryerson has a reputation for cutting-edge technology, training students hands-on to produce quality work at industry level. If the school wants to maintain its positive reputation and to continue to produce graduates in top-notch academic standing, it must be taken into account that high quality work is best produced by healthy students.