The content you are about to read involves mention of mental health challenges and suicidal thoughts. If you are a Humber student and need support, you can access (TAO), which provides online and mobile tools (hyperlink to services) or call the Good2Talk Helpline at 1-666-925-5454. In case of emergency, call 9-1-1.
For more information, visit humber.ca/student-life.
Mark Henick grew up in a home in rural Nova Scotia where talking about emotions was discouraged, sometimes even forbidden.
At 10, Henick’s teacher discovered his drawings depicting various ways he could harm himself. The teacher referred him to a guidance counsellor.
“I told them what I’d been feeling. It all felt very normal to me,” said Henick of his depression and suicidal thoughts, delivering a talk to students at Humber College decades later.
Facing a lack of resources, Henick was sent to the hospital, this time and many times after.
He felt utterly hopeless and helpless.
A few years later, Henick climbed over the railing of a bridge in his small town, prepared to jump.
“We’ve set the bar so high that in order to break through or surpass that bar, to get noticed and to get help, people have to reach the most extreme form of their illness,” he said.
Henick felt beyond help, past the point of reaching out.
Fortunately, a helping hand reached in.
A stranger called out to him, stood beside him and asked his name. He asked more questions, leaving long spaces of silence for Henick to fill up or not.
The encounter helped the young Henick push forward, open up, tell his story and develop into an advocate. Every time he spoke about mental health, someone came up to him to share their own experiences.
His recent talk at Humber College focused on mentally healthy campuses, but he told his story first. Henick urged others to push the first domino by sharing their own stories to create a safe, caring space for the college community.
Mental health stigma persists, despite annual campaigns, awareness days and the recognition that everyone is affected by mental illness in some way.
Henick described the systemic changes needed to not only decrease stigma but get people the help they need promptly, including campus-wide health strategies.
“Mental health awareness can’t just be this informal thing, talking about our feelings all the time. We need to formalize it; ensure we have training in place for people who need it. It’s not enough to say, ‘Reach out for help’ if there’s no one there to reach back,” he said.
Reaching back costs money, but it’s necessary to change the culture of a campus.
For example, peer-to-peer support may require some training, but it’s an accessible way for students to get help and offer it, too.
“If there’s someone who’s struggling, it’s on us to help them,” said Henick.
“We need community solutions to help people.”
Institutions must also act - beyond training and campaigns.
“Sometimes the problems people are facing, the barriers keeping them in that place, we may be a part of that,” said Henick.
No matter how much post-secondary institutions push the needle, mental illness and struggle will continue to exist, so Henick also has some advice for students whose capacity may have decreased or who need to slow down a little. Deadlines aren’t going anywhere, but priorities can change.
“If you fail, is that the worst that can happen?” he asked before reflecting on his own winding road to recovery.
“Failure can serve a purpose. It doesn’t have to crush you. People need to know they can recover and that whatever they’re going through won’t last forever.”