Giving Day sparks mental health conversation

UAlberta community raises $60,000 in 24 hours to help expand successful programs, pilot new ones and train volunteers.


UPDATED Oct. 14, 2 p.m.: We did it! Thanks to more than 380 generous supporters, Giving Day raised $60,000 for student mental health.
Learn more about Giving Day 2015.

Paisly Symenuk’s first year wasn’t supposed to be like this.

The bright, articulate student came to the University of Alberta from high school with everything going for her: straight A’s, a supportive family who lived in Edmonton and a passion for nursing—her chosen program.

But the transition to university life was challenging for Symenuk: separation from friends, navigating a sprawling campus, a workload she found daunting and high-stakes exams.

“I really felt like I didn’t have a place here. That I wasn't smart enough and that I really probably shouldn't continue. That maybe it was just not for me,” Symenuk said.

Symenuk soldiered on by hitting the books, cutting out social activities and pulling all-nighters. But her grades still suffered and she spiralled quickly into a slump.

Research shows that Symenuk is not alone. The U of A offers many services and programs—from counselling to recreation—to help students be resilient and deal with setbacks. Yet, like their peers at other North American universities, many U of A students say they have trouble coping.

A 2013 survey showed that:

  • almost two-thirds of students—62 per cent—said they felt “very lonely” in the past year
  • more than 54 per cent experienced overwhelming anxiety
  • 50 per cent of students said they felt things were hopeless
  • 8.5 per cent—an alarming 3,000 students—had seriously considered suicide

Giving Day: 24 hours to support student mental health

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, UAlberta Giving Day, the university will raise awareness about student mental health, and raise money to expand successful programs and pilot new ones. Giving Day runs 24 hours, from 2 p.m. on Oct. 13 to 2 p.m. on Oct. 14.

“Good mental health means having the resilience to handle stressful times,” said Robin Everall, dean of students and a registered psychologist. “Supporting student mental health is about more than helping students who are struggling. It’s about supporting student wellness, which helps lead to success at university and beyond.”

October 13 is a significant date in the U of A’s history and inspired the focus for this year’s UAlberta Giving Day.

“On Oct. 13, 1908, our founding president, Henry Marshall Tory, challenged us all to remember that the ‘uplifting of the whole people’ was the university’s ultimate goal,” said Robert Moyles, interim associate vice-president of Alumni Relations.

“He reminded us that to do so, we must nurture all who enter the university. The donations received for UAlberta Giving Day will support services that help students directly and give them healthy ways to cope with setbacks.”

Symenuk’s story has a happy ending. She got the support she needed and four years on, she says she’s healthier than ever. She’s also giving back by volunteering with the Community Social Work Team and with Unitea, a program that fosters peer-to-peer conversations over tea. Symenuk’s nursing degree has also allowed her to research mental health, an issue she believes should be the biggest priority for universities.

“You shouldn't come here and get unhealthy. That's not the point of university. Everyone should have a flourishing experience here."