This seventh edition of Featured Advocates Month blog posts is written by Rika Wong. After beginning her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Queen’s University back in 2016, Rika switched into the Accelerated Standing Track nursing program in 2018. She is soon to be graduating with her Bachelor of Nursing Science degree this fall. Rika has been a proud supporter of Step Above Stigma and its initiatives since 2017.
I was 17 years old when I chose to move across the country and begin my undergraduate degree at Queen’s University. Like many of those starting first year, I was excited to meet new friends and eager for a new level of independence of now being on my own. In high school, I got good grades, played sports, and had a great group of friends. Looking back, it’s safe to say that my 17-year-old self was naive to the reality of balancing school, extracurriculars, as well as a social life. Of all the things I learned throughout my four years in university, however, the importance of mental health was one of my most valuable lessons. There is trial and error in finding the approach that best supports you and your mental health journey. It’s a complex and lifelong process that, at times, feels like you’re taking one step forwards and two steps back. As I close this particular chapter of my life as a, now, 21-year-old, I reflect on a couple of my biggest takeaways that I wished I would have known as my 17-year-old self.
Firstly, it’s okay to say “no”. As a first-year, I was eager to get involved in clubs and sports and the possibilities to do so seemed endless. I was keen and motivated, but so were the hundreds of other incoming students I was surrounded with. It easily led me to being overcommitted and burnt out, which really impacted my mental health throughout university. As a university student, there can be immense pressure to get involved in an extensive list of clubs, maintain good grades, while getting 8-hours of sleep. It was easy to fall in the trap of comparing myself to my peers and thinking that I also had to add on another initiative or hobby to my plate. What I learned was the importance of dedicating time to checking in with myself and recharging so that I could be present for the commitments I did choose to take part in. Saying “no” to certain opportunities can be challenging, and is still something I struggle with from time to time, but it has become apparent to me that in order to be able to give my 100% to school, friends, and extracurriculars, I needed to ensure that I was investing in my own well-being first.
Secondly, you are your biggest advocate when it comes to your mental health. Whether it’s you, a close friend, or an acquaintance, everyone faces their own challenges with their mental health. In an environment where there is great pressure to balance school, extracurriculars, and relationships, it can be easy to overlook the struggles that others are facing. As university students, we feel the need to follow a routine of going to class, studying in the library, and hanging out with friends, all while silently dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and more. While facing the challenges of my own mental health and also seeing my close friends also experienced their own unique struggles helped me to realize that at the end of the day, while we can look to our friends and family for support, we owe it to ourselves to be our own biggest advocate. We must know our limits, set boundaries, and build healthy habits. Whether it’s reaching out to a therapist or reevaluating your priorities, the steps you take start by recognizing the importance behind prioritizing your own mental health.
Read our blog posts about personal experiences and stories with regards to mental health. Posts written by our team or those passionate about mental health.