In this “new normal,” it’s difficult to imagine a time when a desolate VIU Nanaimo campus was anything but standard. Conversely, a November reading break at VIU is still a fairly new concept.
For those unaware, on November 5, 2018, Spencer Stone Shutes tragically passed away after falling from the fifth floor of VIU’s Nanaimo campus library. To honour the memory of Spencer and his family, The Nav would like to continue the conversation on mental health.
To me, he was just another person who passed by the table I was cramming at on the top floor of the library before my afternoon classes. To you, he may have been a community member, classmate, or friend. Spencer Stone Shutes was an intelligent young man with many interests and a bright future ahead of him. Like many of us, Spencer felt plenty of pressure, but showed no indication that he was struggling.
I often wonder if I could have changed things if I took my earphones from my ears and gotten up to stretch my legs; maybe I would have noticed him before it happened. The harsh reality is that as students, we take on so much pressure that we often forget to look out for one another—and even ourselves.
Through the reading break, we at The Nav took a break from our typical production schedule to address this important topic. Now, as we approach the end of the semester, we’d like to remind you to take some time to check in on a classmate, friend, loved one, or family member—and most importantly, yourself.
Don’t be afraid to open up about mental health. It’s okay not to be okay.
Sports have been my outlet for as long as I can remember, but in my second year at VIU I started to notice problems with my hips. After being a part of the transition from VIU Storm to VIU Mariners Rugby and the Nanaimo Hornets Rugby Club’s inauguration to the BC Premier League, a huge progression physically and ongoing success educationally, I learned that I might never be able to play sports competitively again. Following a surgery in my fourth year, I found an alternative to playing sports, which was celebrating the awesome talent found amongst the VIU Mariners by writing about them for The Nav.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but now that I’m here and the pressure is high, I take comfort in knowing that I have the support of the people I’ve met along the way. And, despite not playing a single match in years, I still have brothers that I can turn to in times of crisis—and vice versa.
— Elijah Robinson, Managing Editor
I’m glad all of us here at The Nav are talking about mental health and adding our piece. I’m glad you’re here reading this and I hope it opens up conversations between you and those around you.
I want to extend my thoughts to the family and friends of Spencer Stone Shutes. I can’t imagine what an anniversary like this feels like. It’s stories like Spencer’s that remind us how important it is to be open and honest with our mental health, and to remember to check in on those we care about.
Spencer didn’t wear his struggles with mental health on his sleeve—not many do. It’s surprising how often the people you think are the happiest or the most successful are the ones fighting to cope. The truth is, we all struggle to some degree. I certainly have.
It took me a while—too long—to speak with someone about my mental health. After a couple years of university straight out of high school, I was feeling stuck. I lacked the motivation to engage with my friends and my classes, and my grades suffered. It took a professor of mine to sit me down in her office after another poor mark and simply ask if I was okay. I knew I wasn’t, but I didn’t know why, or where to turn. She suggested I try the free counselling VIU offers. I went the following week. I don’t thank her enough for that seemingly small gesture.
We need to be as open and honest with our mental health as we are with our physical health. When we’re ailing we seek help, or we speak up about it and find what works best for us to manage it. Acknowledging that it’s okay to struggle and that it’s okay to ask for support is hard, but people are there for us, even if we may not know it.
— Sean Desrochers, Sports Editor
Mental health has always been a weird thing for me to talk about because I am still learning so much about it.
I grew up with the mindset that it’s better to put others first and care about yourself second. To do that, I would keep all my emotions to myself. This is something I am still learning is unhealthy.
If you were a VIU student in 2018, you probably remember what you were doing when the events of November 5 took place. I was with my friends walking from the upper cafeteria back to the VIU Student Residences. On the way down we walked past the library and witnessed something that I don’t think I ever told anyone about because it felt easier to keep it to myself.
The following year I became a resident advisor (RA) for the VIU Residence. I was trained to be there for my residents’ mental health struggles, but I don’t think I was fully prepared for what that year would hold.
Once again I had found myself putting other people first—I felt like I had to be there for them 24/7. I would keep to myself about the personal struggles I was facing in my job, and although I felt comfortable telling people that it is okay to ask for help, and would lead them to resources like the VIU counselling services, I would never take my own advice.
It wasn’t until the second semester of my RA job that I figured I should at least try the VIU counselling service. That one session really opened my mind about my mental health.
For the longest time, I felt like I didn’t deserve to talk about my pain, but I learned that’s not true. Everyone deserves to feel happy, to feel safe, and to feel like they have someone to talk to.
Although I still have a hard time talking about my emotions and have much to learn about mental health, after seeking counselling and listening to Spencer Stone Shutes’ story and other stories that came out of November 5, I am now able to realize that I am allowed to cry on someone’s shoulder, reach out for help, and to put my mental health struggles first. It just took me 20 years to realize that. Sometimes it does just take time to figure that out.
— Lauryn Mackenzie, News Editor
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t struggle with mental health issues. I was taken from my mother at a very young age and became a ward of the Crown, which basically means the Government of Canada is my daddy. What I know is that at some point I was diagnosed with ADHD and was on Ritalin for most of my childhood. After a rough life, I now also have PTSD (in remission but can be triggered by stressful situations), alcoholism (I’m sober 6 years as of November 14!), depression, and anxiety.
But I’m not telling you this for you to feel sorry for me. I’m telling you this because I survived and am now thriving, despite my mental health issues. I am not an expert; however, I have learned some techniques that work for me and my mental health, and I want to share them with you now.
I’ve found that part of protecting your mental health is establishing boundaries. For many, it’s in their nature to be giving, and they find saying “no” to be difficult. Boundaries can also mean different things to different people, but once you start to practice building them, you’ll find a lot of your stress doesn’t even belong to you.
When I’m the most anxious, I’m usually worried about the future. I find it helps to take a moment to think about how far I’ve come and to be grateful for what I have right now.
For those who are spiritual or religious, I would suggest taking a moment to thank whoever your higher power is. This is such a grounding technique because it reminds you to be present, and leaves you with a feeling of appreciation rather than dread.
Sometimes, I get so depressed that I can’t get out of bed. This is the time when I make things easy for myself. Don’t want to cook? Order pizza. Don’t want to get out of bed? Do your readings in bed.
When I start to get my energy back, I like to do my laundry, have a hot bubble bath, and then get back in my cozy, clean bed.
If this doesn’t speak to you, ask yourself what you do day-to-day that makes you feel good and use the answers to personalize your self-care routine.
Service to others:
It’s funny that helping people is one of the most selfish things you can do because it makes you feel so darn good. However, taking some of the positive energy you’ve built up and sharing it can be such a rewarding experience. Just remember to do this quietly and keep it to yourself. You need to do it for the right reasons.
I hope that these suggestions help you—maybe one might even get you through an exam or perhaps a technique might help you later down the road. Either way, I wish you the best during these trying times and hope your future is filled with prosperity and happiness!
— Carrie Davis, Videographer
I’m so glad that talking about mental health is becoming normalized. Now that the stigma around it is gradually decreasing, more people are finding opportunities to speak up, speak out, and find help. More on the word “help” later.
I grew up on a little farm with loving parents. My life was pretty good. As I transitioned into my teens, even though I struggled with constant stress and an almost debilitating shyness, I didn’t think I had the right to complain. Others had it far worse than me. Enter 2018; the worst year of my life. I went through my first breakup, my parents split, and we sold the farm. To say it was a heavy blow would be an understatement.
My mom suggested I see a counsellor, but I didn’t think what I was going through was “bad” enough. I could get by on my own. Eventually I did decide to give it a go, mostly to satisfy my mom. While I wasn’t ready to open up about what had been going on in my life, the therapist gave me an anxiety test and I found out I was on the “moderately high” end of the scale. I was surprised by my relief. Finally, I had a name to what I had been experiencing all my life. It was something real, something tangible. Two years later, I have a therapist I really click with. Even though I still sometimes think my problems aren’t “bad” enough to bring to her, my break-through moments remind me that what matters is my problems are big to me, and they usually affect me more deeply than I realize.
I’ve found that having a support system you can trust is so important—whether it be one person or five, it’s the quality of the relationship that counts. Find the people who make time for you and listen to you free of judgement. Build some routines for yourself—a check-in text with a friend in the morning, a phone call with your sister before bed, a group call with some buddies over lunch… you name it. No matter how much homework I have to do, I go for a walk, get some fresh air and exercise, and phone up a friend or family member I haven’t talked to in a while. If I’m not feeling social, sometimes I don’t make a phone call and I let nature be my support system.
I encourage you to combat thoughts that you’re a downer, that your worries or problems aren’t “big” enough or “important” enough to talk about, that reaching out for help shows weakness. I think there really is a connotation that weakness comes with the word “help.” Folks, know that reaching out for help takes strength. Being vulnerable isn’t easy. Because of the connotations that come with “help,” I prefer using “support.” I encourage you to lean into your strength and reach out for support. You deserve it.
— Kiara Strijack, Copy Editor
This year has been mentally exhausting. In part, because a lot of us are studying and working from home while a global pandemic rages on. It’s also because we’re consuming more news now than ever as society’s political and social climate falls into disarray. Not to mention the actual climate crisis we’re facing.
It’s hard not to get down when all of this is happening.
I keep reminding myself not to minimize my own struggle. My family’s world has been turned upside down in the past three years, and as the oldest child I constantly feel as though I need to protect my sisters by being “the strong one.” Now that I’m always home and not distracted by social obligations, all the emotions I’ve suppressed these past few years have decided to appear at unexpected times (usually and conveniently hours before a major assignment is due!).
I realize I must not lose sight of the person I am responsible for at the end of every day—myself. I am responsible for my physical health and my mental health. How can I reach out to help others who are struggling if I’m struggling myself? How can I use my privilege to help break systems of oppression when I can barely hand an assignment in on time?
When everything’s too much, I go for a walk. The fresh air gives me clarity to prioritize my day from the most important tasks to the least. Walks are also great because they get your body moving, which is a huge stress reliever. What I also like to do is turn on my favourite song really loud in my kitchen and dance. Like, really dance—in that embarrassing waving-your-arms-and-jumping-around kind of way. Find what works best for you and try to fit that into your day.
And lastly, I try to be gentle with myself when I am having those off days. Even if they come more often.
— Kristen Bounds, Features Editor
Sometimes life throws you unexpected curveballs. Sometimes life throws you too many all at once. With the pandemic, changing seasons, and maneuvering through your studies, it can all pile up and be too much. I know, I’m with you there. Just know that there are places you can reach out to at VIU, and people ready and willing to help. Mental health ups and downs happen to everyone. I have found that leaning on family and friends really helps when I’m feeling anxious and low. This past year I realized a few things: it’s okay to not be okay; if you push emotions away, they will fester; being vulnerable and asking for help is a sign of strength, and learning to have self-compassion is everything.
I know that everyone’s experience with mental health is different, and I am no expert, but what I have changed in myself is that if I’m having a bad day I sit with my negative emotions and let myself work through them rather than push them away. I try to remind myself that tomorrow is a new day.
It can be scary to reach out for help, but I encourage you to do so if you are struggling.
— Kaleigh Studer, Arts Editor
This year has been a ride, to say the least. Despite canceled events, always reminding myself to keep my social circle small, and feeling like I don’t see the light at the end of this COVID tunnel, I think of things I’m grateful for at the end of every day. I’ve been studying and working from home since March, and at first I was enjoying being home. I would make myself a nice lunch and wear sweatpants to my computer every morning. That lasted about two weeks before my motivation was derailed and the reality of a wide open calendar and zero routine hit me hard.
I beat myself up for not working hard enough at self-improvement, because if I didn’t do all the things that would make me a better person this year, when would I do them? Instead of trying to tackle every area of my life, I chose one thing and picked away at it every day. I started running in April—before this I could barely jog a kilometre without stopping—and trained for a half-marathon that I ran in July. That was my one shiny accomplishment from this year, and if that’s all I did well this year, I think I’d be okay with that.
I still call my grandparents to make sure they’re okay because we don’t live close, and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. I downplay how hard it’s been to be at home alone so much as an extrovert. I try new culinary projects in the kitchen, then realize halfway through I’m missing a vital ingredient and I have a full meltdown because I can’t bring myself to go into the grocery store for one thing. I scream into a pillow sometimes because it’s all too much.
I never thought I read for escapism, but this year I’ll admit that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. This book brought me back to my reality though: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It has nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with living your best creative life no matter what that looks like for you. Ask yourself what brings you true and honest joy and go for it, unashamedly. She opposes perfectionism and writes, “Mere completion is a rather honourable achievement in its own right. … You must learn to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.” I’m happy to report that I’m living a very full life as a deeply disciplined half-ass.
— Jade Vandergrift, Associate Editor
One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn over the last two years is that working on your own mental health is just as important as going to school and working towards your future. It’s okay if you have to slow things down, or if things are ugly for a while as you pick up the pieces in your own head. Actually identifying your problems and facing them head on is just as much of a skill as any. Sometimes—most of the time—it’s really hard.
Two years ago I realized that I wasn’t okay, and that I hadn’t been okay for a while. I had been avoiding that truth—a particular specialty of mine (raise your hand if you binge-read books to escape your feelings!). It took time to come to terms with the fact that videos about productivity on YouTube weren’t going to be enough to counteract my underlying feelings of unworthiness. Once I realized those feelings were there, it took a long time for me to accept that I’m allowed to feel those feelings despite not being as worse off as others. I felt ridiculous crying my eyes out all the time over things that I knew were small in the grand scheme of things. After all, I have friends who have come from abusive homes or have been officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Imposter syndrome around not being “mentally unwell enough” compared to others is an interesting beast—one that I wanted to talk about in case you suffer from it too. I read somewhere that one of the most common things patients say to their counsellors and psychiatrists is “there are people out there that have more problems than me.” Don’t let that stop you from seeking help and support.
Last year I started seeing a counsellor who I told about these feelings, and what he said about the matter really stuck with me. “Just because other people have had it worse doesn’t mean what you went through wasn’t hard for you.”
You are allowed to feel your feelings without judgment, and you shouldn’t compare them to other people’s feelings and situations. Your experiences are unique to you, and so are your emotions. I find that I often have to remind myself about this. Nevertheless, learning to treat myself with compassion even when it’s extremely hard has paid off, and I’m slowly on the mend.
I hope that my story can be a compassionate reminder to you that it’s okay and important to be gentle with yourself. Also, if it wasn’t for this damn pandemic I would give you a hug. You deserve a good hug, friend.
— Teigan Mudle, Graphic Designer
First of all, as my teammates have said, I want to give my thoughts to Spencer’s friends and family during this time.
November is an important month for me. Not only was I born in November, but the month is also often referred to as “Men’s Mental Health Month.” Last year, as a self-directed research project, I came up with a project called “Mentell.” It’s a fictional non-profit advocating for men’s mental health. I designed a fancy logo and an advertising campaign. But for me, the assignment was more than a graphic design project or a research project—it was completely for me. Sounds self-centred, I get it. But I needed help and I didn’t realize it, so this became a project to better understand mental health as someone who identifies as a man.
Statistically, men’s mental health is a big problem, with on average 50 men dying per week due to suicide. Men make up about 75 percent of all suicides, and, in the ongoing fentanyl and opioid crisis, about 80 percent of deaths. This has been called a “silent crisis,” as men are dying every day due to depression and other mental health issues. I, like many other men, am not entirely aware of complex feelings and emotions. When I started the “Mentell” project, I had just wrapped up a one-year “Rocky-style” training montage getting ready for a competition called World Skills. I had also finished a four-month internship at a design studio in Victoria. By the time I got back to school in September, I was completely exhausted. During the last month of my internship I was sleeping in and drinking a lot more than I usually did, and I just felt done. I felt burnt out. I was doing what I loved and competing in this thing I had wanted to compete in for so long, but all I felt was numb.
When I was back in school, I started researching men’s mental health, and through my research I learned that men deal with mental health in unique ways. In North America, men often resort to action-based problem solving as opposed to communicating, and/or they simply don’t talk about mental health at all. Growing up, I, like many other men, was told, “Men don’t cry,” and, “Men don’t show emotion.” Moreover, mental health resources are not tailored towards how men deal with mental health issues. In terms of design, a lot of mental health resources visually contest what is culturally considered “masculine,” often unintentionally excluding men from these services. From the 30 or so articles I read, I can’t say that I’m an expert in the subject, but a lot of the resources for my project helped me.
During and after the project I started talking to a counsellor, learning how to identify how I was feeling at a given moment, and learning more ways that I can support my mental health. Because of this, I’ve felt better than I have in a long time. Which is quite strange, considering the global health crisis and all. I can thank several people for supporting me in my aim to better understand my mental health. The most valuable thing I learned about mental health during my project was to simply talk to someone. Please talk to someone. Talk to your guardian, friend, neighbour, or the crisis line 1-833-456-4566. Hell, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my pleasure to talk to you.
— Joe Thoong, Art Director