The State of Your Mind

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Macleans has investigated and written about the state of student minds across North America. What they have found is disturbing.

Cornell University has just installed steel mesh nets under seven bridges around their campus. These bridges overlook the gorges that were the sites of three Cornell student suicides in 2010 out of a total of six that year. Their president David J. Skorton acknowledged that these deaths were just “the tip of the iceberg, indicative of a much larger spectrum of mental health challenges faced by many on our campus and on campuses everywhere.” Kate Lunau, The Broken Generation, Macleans Sept, 10, 2012.

Ryerson University had a 200 per cent increase in demand from students in crisis situations last year. The University of Alberta did a survey of 3,000 students about mental and physical health. Macleans posted the highlights (all responses considered the last 12 months):

51.3% felt things were hopeless

87.5% felt overwhelmed by all you had to do

87.1% felt exhausted (not from physical activity)

61.7% felt very lonely

65.6% felt very sad

34.4% felt so depressed that is was difficult to function

52.1% felt overwhelming anxiety

40.7% felt overwhelming anger

57.1% experienced more than average stress

6.8% seriously considered suicide

1.2% attempted suicide

Some reasons suggested by the article:

A very challenging job market with no guarantee of a job after; competition for entrance in universities is stiff, but once there students sometimes experience “a downward mobility” as they are no longer at the top of the class; academic success is so important some resort to taking prescription stimulants to stay focused and awake; heavy debt load; pressure to succeed from home; tendency to want to be a winner in everything they do; inability to handle the unknown; inability to cope with a lack of varied experiences and too much focus placed on academics; insufficient support from schools.

Another article talked about the stigma attached to calling these problems “mental illness” therefore preventing many from coming forward to seek help:

“Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about efforts to improve the services available to students related to their psychological well-being on campuses. University presidents met for a workshop recently, and Queen’s University welcomed a new $1-million chair to study stigma. Now, I am no mental health professional but I do know a few things about universities and have some experience with anxiety and depression. If it were up to me, those trying to improve things on Canadian campuses would keep one crucial principle in mind: be careful how you talk about it.

First, let’s call depression and anxiety something other than “mental illness.” I know that might sound strange and many experts may cringe, but the range of psychological burdens and hurdles is vast, and placing what can be eminently manageable problems in such a huge box with so many other conditions can have unintended negative consequences. Case in point: the term mental illness puts students overwhelmed by workload or having trouble being away from home for the first time in the same category as deranged killers.” Todd Pettigrew, Stop Calling These Kids Mentally Ill, Macleans, Feb 8, 2012.

Paul Tough has written a book, How Children Succeed, and in it he states that student success is less about programming as it is about the ability to handle stress. If a parent/guardian has raised the child (whether rich or poor) with support, love and a sense of personal responsibility, then children arrive in the classroom with the ability to handle stressful situations, concentrate on their work and with the social skills to navigate the system.

Michael Enright on CBC’s The Sunday Edition spoke to Dr Pasi Sahlberg, reform guru Finland’s education system about how their students are allowed to grow and blossom without school until age 7, without standardized testing, homework or competition. They concentrate on the mental health of their students and establish safe, respectful environments for learning. Teachers are educated in a system similar to engineering and medicine and they are a highly respected part of Finish society. Listen here.

What do you think about the state of student minds across North America? Why is this happening? Depression and stress is a big concern in high schools too. What can be done about it?

Cigarette Smoking: Why are so many kids still smoking?

Smoking timeline: a legal history of smoking in Canada

It has been illegal to sell cigarettes to those under 16 years of age since 1908. Why are there so many kids still smoking today? This article outlines the steps the government has taken to limit smoking in Canada. Has it gone far enough? Should smoking be illegal?

According to the Lung Association of Canada, almost 20 per cent of Canadian teens (aged 12-19) currently smoke (daily or occasionally). Some tactics that tobacco companies use to target the youth market:

Cartoon character mascots: A U.S. tobacco company introduced the cartoon character Joe Camel, who became widely known by youth between 1988 and 1991. The success of the Joe Camel character was said to be directly responsible for the increase in cigarette sales from $6 million in 1988 to $476 million in 1991.

Promotional offers: Joe Camel ads once offered Joe Camel leather jackets, sandals and neon signs in exchange for coupons from Camel cigarette packages. Youth had to smoke many packs of cigarettes to receive these promotional materials.

Shifting the blame: Tobacco companies try to shift blame to youth who smoke instead of themselves. Tobacco companies suggest that youth have a choice whether to smoke.

Making tobacco look cool: Nearly all of The Simpsons cartoon characters (including children) have been seen smoking. Eighty-seven per cent of the top box office hits between 1988 and 1997 portrayed tobacco use an average of five times per movie.

Showing tobacco use as an “adult” activity: Tobacco companies send the message that smoking is for adults only but that a child can pretend to be grown-up by smoking

Alarming statistics from The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada on smoking and teenagers:

More than 90% of teenagers who smoke as few as 3 to 4 cigarettes a day may be trapped into a lifelong habit of regular smoking, which typically lasts some 35 to 40 years.

Canadians under the age of 19 consume about 1.7 billion cigarettes every year.

Among young women who smoke:

  • 26% began smoking before the age of 13
  • 83% before age 16
  • and almost all before age 18

Smoking contributes to more than 37,000 deaths a year in Canada, of which almost 11,000 are heart disease and stroke-related (29% of all smoking-related deaths are heart disease and stroke-related).

Almost 6,300 non-smokers die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Smoking is responsible for 14.54% of all heart disease and stroke deaths.

If current rates of tobacco use continue, approximately 1 million Canadians will die over the next 20 years as a direct result of smoking and second-hand smoke.

Becoming smoke-free

As soon as an individual quits smoking, the risk of heart disease and stroke begins to decrease.

  • Within one year of quitting, the risk of dying from smoking-related heart disease is cut in half.
  • Within 10 years, the risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half.
  • After 15 years, the risk of dying will be nearly that of a non-smoker.

More than 50% of former smokers report they are able to become smoke-free after one or two serious attempts

The percentage of people who remain smoke-free after one year of quitting ranges from 5% to 18%

There is a new, cheap brand of cigarettes coming to a boutique near you. They are being marketed as a young, hip alternative to the more sophisticated brands. They are hand-made by women in India, for a whopping $1.00 per day. Most of these women end up with bronchial asthma and permanent disabilities from using the same muscles over and over again from 6AM to 7PM. This is promoted as the best way for women to support their families, but, as the company gets rich, nothing is being done to better the working conditions of the job or fix the pay inequities. Listen to more about this new tobacco product here under Bidi’s deadly hold on India, Rick’s conversation with Murali

What should be done? Give your opinion in the comment box below.