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QUAA president's message: starting a caring tradition

QUAA president's message: starting a caring tradition

[photo with graphic text for QUAA President's message]

I am always heartened when anyone struggling with mental health issues talks openly about their battle. Over the past few years, I have heard several students, alumni and others share their stories, and in doing so, they give everyone permission to reflect and talk about this very important matter.

When I hear these stories, I think about what things were like when I was a student at Queen’s in the early 1980s. Back then, any health issues that were not seen, like a broken leg or arm, were not understood or discussed. Mental health was not on our radar.

Looking back, I can see now that the lack of conversation masked big problems, many of which were wrapped in a shroud of secrecy. We knew suicides occurred, but we never heard who had died. These students became part of a kind of urban legend; they were on campus one day, gone the next and never talked about again.

Why was mental health seemingly so invisible or nonexistent?

As a student-athlete, my circle of fellow ­students were football players and other varsity athletes. Perhaps, feeling depressed or lonely was taboo because we had a culture of being tough and not admitting anything that could be perceived as weakness.

When students seemed depressed, we called them “moody” and blamed their gloominess on a bad break-up or just missing home.

I am sure students during each of our times at Queen’s had mental health issues but in my day, they simply suffered in silence, sometimes managing passing grades as they struggled. Or, they just dropped out of school. They fell by the wayside.

[George Jackson and Sue Bates]
George M. Jackson and fellow QUAA board member Sue Bates, Artsci’91, chatting with students at the 2014 orientation week sidewalk sale.

Even though much is left to be done, things are different now at Queen’s. Students are encouraged to seek help, to care for one another by asking about each other’s well-being. This edition of the Queen’s Alumni Review tells the story of the ­tangible ways that the university is trying to ­support the mental health of students.

But what role can we as alumni play in finding the solutions to support current Queen’s students?

First, acquaint yourself with how Queen’s is tackling mental health through the pages of this magazine. Also, as stories here profile, some alumni are coming forward with philanthropic support to fund programs such as Q ­Success, to help students succeed academically.

At a local level, members of the Kingston branch of the Alumni Association believe they have a hands-on role in the care and comfort of Queen’s students. For example, alumni last year started “Holiday Hugs” when they visited libraries and study halls across campus to hand out ­chocolates to students at the very end of the ­first-term exams, a time when most other students had headed home for the holidays.

I believe these ­gestures of kindness laid the groundwork of ­reaching out to students during stressful times and hopefully, when these students become alumni, they will become part of these caring traditions. It will not surprise you to know that in 24 hours, the event was filled to capacity with alumni who wanted to help.

So thank you to all of the students and alumni who are bringing mental health into the spotlight. Ours is a collective struggle for wellness. I look to our Queen’s alumni to help and care as we recognize, discuss and overcome these challenges.

[photo of Queen's staff, faculty and students with a sign "Focus on mental health"]