Marianne Boucher courtesy CityTV

About a year ago, news broke at U of T of a student who had attacked her professor with a knife. Jokes were made and concerns were raised, but eventually it all died down and nothing changed structurally to fix the cracks in the university’s treatment of mental health. The incident has become a mere anecdote of the university experience.

Now, a year later and having spent ten months in provincial jail and two months in a mental asylum, 22-year-old Xiaoyue Zhou, who goes by the username Nsiimmw on Reddit, has come back into focus with some words on mental health and illness.

U of T has a bit of a reputation for its impact on student mental health. It’s known for being a vast, rigorous and sometimes depressing school, which doesn’t make it hard to imagine falling behind academically, socially or personally. Nsiimmw is just one of many who ended up like this.

It’s easy to get caught up in the pulp fiction of her situation, which precipitated as a toxic fixation on mathematics professor Sean Uppal. But it boils down to school pressure and self-negligence, and she spoke out about it in a recent Sept. 13 post on U of T’s subreddit, r/UofT, titled, “We are the makers of our own prisons.”

In it, Nsiimmw states: “Focus on your mental health! U of T is a stressful place, [and] during my first two years at U of T, I had a 4.0 GPA, but I didn’t pay attention to my mental illness. I learned my lesson the hard way…. Also, seek professional help when the situation is interfering with your daily functions. People suggest me to go to counsellors before the incident happened, but I just ignored [them]…. I just wish somebody tell me [sic] exactly what was wrong with me before I got arrested…. I wish everyone best of luck, and now it’s time to move on with my life. I’m thankful that … I got a second chance.” She’s positive. She sounds lighthearted, but at the same time brings up a good point about self-negligence, which is a big problem at U of T. Situations don’t have to escalate like they did with her. Could things have been easily avoided as many would say?

This is where I would say no, I don’t think so. At least not easily. This was certainly avoidable in two distinct ways, but it requires a serious look at how victims and the people around them treat mental illness and their mental health.

If students like Nsiimmw were able to overcome the dismissive attitude we all currently have towards awareness of our own mental health and how important that is to our lives, just like eating and sleeping properly, then the escalation of Nsiimmw’s fixation on Uppal could have been prevented from reaching its climax. It’s not like we don’t have resources—U of T has the Health and Wellness Centre as well as Counseline, though the visibility of these programs is debatable.

We just lack a self-awareness about what we should be treating as valid worries instead of discounting them. That in and of itself is more difficult to do nowadays because of the hyperbolic nature of how youth nowadays speak, either underestimating or going to extremes with how they feel (e.g., kill me now, I’m so depressed, I hate this, I love that, I’m obsessed with this). That leaves us with no good concept of what a realistic middle is that requires actual attention.

On the other side of the coin, the same situation could have been avoidable if people around her, like Uppal, were better versed in the mental health sphere. If they were conscious enough about mental illness to recognize the signs of what was going on and contact the proper services as well as having reported Nsiimmw, perhaps the situation wouldn’t have escalated as far as it did. Basically, he had the normal, expected response, and I can’t blame him at all. But what we think of as normal should change to accommodate a greater awareness of mental illness.

Nsimmw did follow up with an even more recent post from Sept. 14 titled, “Sean Uppal wants me dead.” There’s no point in going into detail about what she wrote because she deleted it a few hours later. It was a bit of a relapse post, probably triggered by the strong and positive reaction to her initial post causing her to give herself hope she could keep making amends (first having done so to the community, now wanting to to her victim).

But fortunately, Nsimmw updated the post giving thanks for all the support she has received from the subreddit even upon this step backwards, saying, “I admit that my mind is fucked up…. I’ll go to the hospital today…. Thanks for your support.” So, really, her posts, like her story, carry a sensationalist title but a mindful, hopeful ending.

More on the mental health resources available around the St. George campus:

The Health and Wellness Centre is located on the second floor of the Koffler Student Services Centre at 2014 College St., and their phone number is (416) 978 - 8030. Counseline is available through appointments, just call (416) 946 - 5117 and leave a confidential voice message with your name and phone number and you will be contacted to make arrangements for online or face-to-face counselling.

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