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Overwhelmed at School? Some Tips for College Freshman

It’s September and for at least 2 million Americans, that means a new beginning at college campuses across the country. While the excitement of Orientation Week lingers on, class is now in session, so listen up: we’ve written this blogpost to give you freshman a head’s up on two major college pressures, and subsequently, mistakes to avoid and methods for success to make the most of your first year.

  1. Freshman Year Matters but Bad Grades Aren’t the End of the World

Let’s be clear: if you’re enrolled in a post-secondary program, your primary purpose is to complete said program, earning yourself an accreditation. Why else would you laden yourself with the average of nearly $30,000 in student debt to attend? It’s a time to invest in yourself through education, for your future.

But honestly, the first year of college is just as much about the experience of independence as it is about your academic mission. According to a Gallup-Purdue study, seeking out more social and extracurricular activities during college translates into greater career fulfillment later on.

If your social calendar is consistently taking precedence over your academic one however, your grades might not be hitting the mark. If severe enough, low grades could mean not being allowed to continue in your major or academic probation.

Yet, it’s worth noting that it’s not the end of the world – your future employer likely won’t care how you did in your first year Econ course. And according to Fiona Doyle, dean of the graduate division at University of California-Berkley, graduate school admissions put more emphasis on student academic progress than initial grades. While your GPA might take a hit, there’s always subsequent semesters to pull it up.

If this sounds like you …

What to do:

  • Find a study buddy: according to research from Berea College, students who surrounded themselves with studious peers spent more hours studying themselves and posted higher grades during their freshman year. Friends and good grades? Best of both worlds.
  • Meet your professors and use office hours: As a freshman, professors can be intimidating. If you’ve missed a few classes or feel lost in class, you might feel too sheepish to talk to them and seek help. You shouldn’t – remember that you’re paying for that service. Be honest, take responsibility and ask your professor how you can catch up. You might find they care about their student’s performance.

What not to do:

  • Think there’s no way out: tragically, there are students that commit suicide because of academic pressures. If you’re feeling significant stress or are considering self-harm, reach out immediately to your school’s mental health services program. They’re there to help and they can help you save your school year and your life.
  • Make Friends But Don’t Get Too Stressed Out About Popularity

In a lot of ways, the first year of college can feel like high school all over again. Sure, your parents aren’t there to enforce curfew and you won’t need a note to excuse you from class but there are some similarities.

For one, if you’re living in an on-campus residence, your assigned roommates and surrounding floormates mean there will already be group social dynamics to contend with, from the get-go.

Two, just like ninth grade, everyone’s new and trying to figure out where they belong. You’re now a fish in a much bigger pond, given the average high school size student population is roughly 800, while the average college has over 6,000 undergraduates or more than 45,000 at the 10 largest colleges.

Some look toward the Greek system to find new brothers and sisters, while others might find a bigger pool of people means a higher chance of finding someone who shares the same interests as you, whether through a school club or extracurricular. If you’re in your first year of school and haven’t found your tribe yet, don’t worry. Some tips below:

What to do:

  • Seek out experiences: If you don’t leave your dorm room, you can’t expect to make friends. Joining a sports team, whether you’re playing varsity or co-ed intramurals can be a great place to make friends and a way to stay healthy. Many schools have hundreds of student organizations and clubs – find one that’s in-line with your interests and you’re likely to find other students that you’ll get along with.
  • Positivity and empathy: A recent Stanford study on freshman found that those who exude positivity and/or empathy are likely to be more popular with peers, and are sought out for excitement and trust networks. Looks like Dale Carnegie was right!

What not to do:

  • Let things get out of hand: It’s no secret that a big part of campus life gravitates around alcohol. It can be a “social lubricant” but it can also be a danger to your health and your popularity. Binge drinking can lead to blackouts, which can lead to “shame-overs”: waking up the next morning with no idea what you did or with a recollection of some embarrassing moments. Stay in control and you should stay in the clear.

A Stiff Upper Lip to a Pink Slip: How to Rebound from Being Let Go

Let’s face it: getting laid off sucks. Even when it comes with a generous severance package, after investing a significant amount of our time into a job, getting let go can make you feel adrift, whether in regard to your career, finances, or your self-worth. 

You’re not alone: from 2009 to 2014, one in five U.S. workers were laid off and 22% were unable to find another job at the time of the study in 2014. In fact, in another study, 61% of people reviewed had lost a job for longer than a year by the time they were 70. The fact is, it happens. It doesn’t make you or mean you’re incompetent or without value. In fact, sometimes a layoff can be a blessing in disguise by giving you the permission to pursue your dream or even make you a more attractive candidate for future employment. So, with all that being said, let’s discuss some of the things you should keep in mind at this stage.

 Your Immediate Checklist

  1. Discuss your exit package: Depending on the terms of your lay off, your employer might offer you severance pay, extension on benefits and a job reference. Find out what those entail:they will help you determine your financial and career plan going forward.

  2. Check if you qualify for unemployment benefits: Depending on your jurisdiction and the terms of your lay off, you may qualify for unemployment in the interim. Apply for it and don’t fall victim to stigma about collecting unemployment as a sign of resignation – there are plenty of celebrated people who have thrived after periods of unemployment.

  3. Take stock of your mental state: A lay-off can be a significantly emotionally and mentally taxing time. Trying to be stoic and deal with it on your own can cause even more stress. Tap into your support systems: friends, family and coworkers can provide a sympathetic ear and help you plan out your next moves. You may also still be eligible for EAP services through the terms of your lay-off.

Bouncing Back: Some Ways to Jumpstart Your Next Move

If you’re ready to hit the ground running, brush up your resume and set up some job alerts – you can also reach out to your network to see if there are any other opportunities within your industry. Use websites like LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed and more to help with your job search.

Sometimes being laid off is a good time to consider upgrading your skills through additional education: a 2016 study in Canada found significant correlations between job layoffs and full-time enrolment in post-secondary education. In some jurisdictions, you might qualify for financial support for tuition and training fees if you’ve been laid off.

You don’t necessarily need to get back into the grind either: if you feel financially stable for the time being, sometimes a lay-off can be a good excuse for a long vacation, time spent with family and an opportunity to discover your true passion. At the end of the day, if you can return to the job hunt more mentally and emotionally rested, you’ll be all the better for it.

Stay Optimistic; Stay Hungry

Another reason to not feel hopeless: it’s a seller’s market. The US is currently experiencing a significant labor shortage, with month-over-month increases in open job. As to whether it’s a staying trend, there’s a big demographic shift underway: more-and-more of the Baby Boomer generation is choosing to retire, creating demand for replacement labour. It might even be enough to blunt a mild labor market downtown.

Final Thoughts

Getting laid off can come as a shock; particularly if it’s unexpected. Remember that you are not your job – you are a person with plenty to offer. If you find yourself with a pink slip, don’t fret – there is a world of opportunity ahead of you and tomorrow is another day. You’ll be back on your feet in no time.


Loose Lips Sink (Work Relation)ships: Handling Gossip in the Workplace

Humans are by their very nature, social creatures. It’s one of the foundational reasons why we’ve thrived as a species. Through forming relationships and working together, we’ve accomplished great things. Unfortunately, this article is going to focus on a regrettable by-product of our innate social drive: workplace gossip.

Over a lifetime, the average person spends approximately 90,000 hours at work. Put another way: one-third of your adult life will be spent in a work environment. No matter which way you cut it, a significant portion of your time will be spent in the workplace, surrounded by other people doing the same. In spending so much time with our colleagues, we become interested in their lives and we develop social bonds that can exceed a purely productivity-focused relationship. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either – a recent meta-analysis shows that friends work together better than a group of acquaintances.

But as alluded to above, gossip is ultimately the by-product of these social connections – you might call it a fact of life. In fact, 90% of conversations qualify as gossip and nearly 15% of all work email can be categorized as gossip too. Another stat: on average, we gossip for about 52 minutes each day. As Alicia Bassuk and Claire Lew qualify it in Harvard Business Review, gossip is “casual and unconstrained conversation, about absent third parties, regarding information or events that cannot be confirmed as being true”.

When Gossip Gets Toxic

When do we need to start worrying about gossip in the workplace? The answer: when it’s “essentially, a form of attack”. Gossip that maligns individuals, can hurt their careers, personal relationships and mental health. In fact, it can even lead to physical symptoms, like panic attacks, self-harm and more. Think of it this way in relation to the HBR definition provided above: if it meets all those criteria and it is negatively focused on an individual or group of individuals, your gossip is toxic and has no place in your workplace. Ultimately, toxic gossip is a form of bullying or verbal harassment and in some jurisdictions, could violate labour rules. Some other negative consequences of workplace gossip:

  • Erosion of trust and morale.
  • Lost productivity and wasted time.
  • Increased anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact.
  • Divisiveness among employees as people take sides.
  • Hurt feelings and reputations.
  • Attrition due to good employees leaving the company because of an unhealthy work environment.

If you must deal with or encounter gossip in the workplace, here are some tips to help fix it:

  1. The Buck Stops Here: One of the easiest ways to stop yourself from becoming a part of the toxic gossip cycle is to refuse to be part of it. As Joseph Grenny notes, gossipers are rewarded when others listen to them – it validates what they’re doing. If someone is sharing something toxic that puts another colleague in the crosshairs, tell them that you’re not taking part in this conversation or just walk away. If you can’t avoid the contagion, refuse to spread it further – you’ll be able to eliminate yourself from the cycle and ultimately, limit its spread.
  2. Take a Sad Song and Make it Better: Toxic gossip can negatively alter perceptions of certain colleagues. The good news is, it could also serve to positively address them as well. If you’re treated with a negative take, you can rebut it and respond with a positive perspective on the target – think of it as your own “positive gossip”, which can even have “self-improvement value” for gossip participants, so a win-win, all-around!
  • Report it: This is something that most of us are reluctant to do – nobody likes being a “snitch”, except when it could help us. But the fact of the matter is, in a hierarchal organization like a workplace, sometimes our powers are limited – particularly if the gossiper is our senior. If you’re worried about becoming a target because you’re trying to help someone else out, don’t worry chances are, workplace gossip is against official workplace policy. Generally, your best bet is your Human Resources department, who in addition to having dealt with situations like this before, have a vested interest in maintaining a healthy workplace environment that operates smoothly,  productively and without risk of workplace harassment claims.

Gossip is human nature. Toxic gossip doesn’t have to be – there are many options to address it in the workplace and to shut it down. And if you feel like you have nowhere to turn, check out your company’s therapeutic and mental health resources to receive tailored advice for your situation – there’s always an answer.


Some Tips to Treat Yourself on July 24th International Self-Care Day

Despite the anticipation of summer with its lure of warm, lazy days, for many of us, it rarely works out that way. That sunshine can mean more social obligations with friends, a need to program and supervise a full day of activities for children home while school’s out and an end to the ready excuse of putting off house repairs until the weather permits.

And then soon enough, it’s the other side of Labor Day and you’re wondering where it all went and why you’re feeling more run down than you were heading into what you thought was going to be your summer.

Luckily, back in 2011, the International Self Care Foundation (ISCF) established International Self-Care Day to remind you, every July 24th, to make sure you’re putting the importance of your health first.  

  
According to the ISF, there are 7 pillars of self-care – we’ve shared them below with some insights that can help you make this self-care day  Many of these are topics that we’ve covered in-depth in previous dispatches from our blogs. If you’re looking for self-care inspiration and some more tips on how to make these a reality in your life, we encourage you to visit our archives and dive in!

  1. Knowledge and Health Literacy: As a series of G.I. Joe PSAs from the 80 expertly cautioned, “knowing is half the battle”. If you’re not aware of the benefits or consequences of your health and welling choices, how can you make sure to optimize yourself for success? Research, look at your family’s medical history, talk to your doctor and take control of your health. Knowledge is power!
  • Mental Wellbeing, Self Awareness & Agency: While your self-care capabilities might be limited by poor health, it’s hard to even begin the road to taking better care of yourself if you don’t have the motivation or mindset to begin the journey.Having the critical self-awareness to identify the challenges and the willpower to improve upon them is a key building block to achieving the 5 other pillars. Some tips: measure your health status and habits and discard those that aren’t beneficial. Focus on reducing stressors and integrating routines that can provide mental and physical clarity, like daily walks. Finally, agency – your ability to apply these changes – be honest with yourself on what you can achieve and work to meet your goals, within reason. Another tip here: focus on small steps first, then shift to the larger goal.

  • Physical Activity: Mens sans in corpore sano – a famous Latin phrase that translates to a healthy body can sustain a healthy mind.The overwhelming body of medical and scientific literature backs this up. When it comes to self-care, it can be too easy to see physical activity as a vanity project, “do I need to go to the gym? I’m happy with how I look”. While a powerful self-esteem and resilient body-image is a great element of strong self-care tendencies, recognizing that the human body is a machine that requires physical activity to keep it running efficiently is important too. No matter what, achieving a level of physical activity that’s realistic for you will be more beneficial than none at all. You’ll also appreciate some of the social benefits of group physical activity too!
  • Good Hygiene: More than just smelling good, hygiene is an important part of your overall health. Not only will it impact your social interactions but things like brushing your teeth regularly can have a significant impact on other, seemingly unrelated health outcomes, like lowering your chance of heart risk or reducing your depressive symptoms. Hygiene is such a big part of self-care that we tend to focus on it the most, to the detriment of the other pillars discussed here. Why? It’s much easier to focus on showering regularly than it is to ask the uncomfortable questions about our own wellbeing and bad habits. Ultimately, because it might be the easier part of your self-care checklist to cross off, it can be a great foundation to ensure the rest of your pillars are built firmly.

Ultimately, you know you better than anyone else. What does it take to recharge your batteries? What can you start doing today that’ll make for a better tomorrow? Today, forget about everyone else and plot out a day, just for you and a course for a happier and healthier future. In other words…


Why Organizing Your Desk can Help Organize Your Life

A universal cliché: the eternal battle between the child’s messy room and the parent’s demand for order. I know that many of you fought this fight too. Perhaps if you’re like me, you begrudgingly accepted your chore, knowing you couldn’t win (or risk the withdrawal of other privileges), while promising yourself that one day, when you were on your own, you would leave your clothes in whichever pile you felt like leaving them in.

Look around you – did you keep that promise to yourself? Are your things neat and tidy, the dishes put away? If so, what sparked your cleanliness conversion?   If not, do you feel happy in your clutter or a sense of nagging guilt?

Clutter and mess can have a profound effect on our emotional state. It can cause stress, bombard us with excessive stimuli, disrupt productivity, make us feel inadequate and be an external indicator of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It can also impact your physical health too and worsening what could be an already vulnerable state.

An old saying: “cleanliness is next to godliness”. As a turn of phrase, it was recorded in a 1778 sermon but the idea itself harkens back to Babylonian and Hebrew religious literature and might prove that our parents, and their parents and so on, were right all along.

Today, the spiritual quest for cleanliness has been given renewed vitality with its latest prophet: Marie Kondo. A Japanese author whose best selling work, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, has been translated into dozens of languages, and the star of the Netflix series, “Tidying up with Marie Kondo”, Kondo’s goal has been to help others find the “joy” in tidying up; that is, keeping the things that spark joy and disposing of those things that do not. Since her show aired, thousands have taken up the challenge and have credited Kondo’s method with changing their lives.

This isn’t just pop science: there have been numerous studies that have made the link between cleaning and improved mental health and wellness. One study found that cluttered homes were linked to a higher expressed level of the stress hormone cortisol. In a previous blogpost, we covered the importance of a good night’s rest for your mental health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 75% of people say they get a better night’s rest when their sheets are clean. This extends beyond physical clutter: pursuing organization and discipline in your daily goals and life pursuits can result in “fewer negative emotions”, according to another study.

Back to Marie Kondo. If you’ve got some mess and want to destress, consider her six basic tips for cleaning and spark some joy back in your life:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle
  3. Finish discarding first
  4. Tidy by category, not by location
  5. Follow the right order
  6. Ask yourself if it ‘sparks joy’

Ultimately, life is messy. Some people are more privileged with time, help and circumstance and can easily live a clean, clutter-free existence. It’s not so easy for everyone else, like single parents juggling multiple, messy children. Even if your space won’t grace the cover of “Cleaning Hygiene Magazine”, try to find some time to bring some order to your environment – it could help you achieve a happier you.


How to Enjoy your Commute

Commuting to and from work is one of the most unifying rituals on earth. No matter where we are from, what we do, or where we do it, we all have to get ourselves from our living quarters to our workplace. There are, of course, countless ways to do this: cars, buses, trains, trams, scooters, bikes, rollerblades, and feet are all well-used modes of transportation for these morning and evening trips.

But commuting can also be a sticking point, especially if it eats up much of our day. Last year, CNBC reported that full-time workers spend over four hours a week commuting; spread over a year, this means we spend the equivalent of almost nine days in transit to and from work. This is the average, though; some folks spend less time, while others spend much, much more. Workers in Hamilton, a small city on Lake Ontario, transit to and from the city of Toronto for work, which can add up to over three hours of commuting each day. Gruelling suburban transit stories like this are common.

But the primary gripe with long commutes is the loss of time. This is fair, as it is our most precious and important commodity. But commuting doesn’t have to be lost time; it can, in fact, be well-used. If we want to transform our commute into a time and space that is productive, we have to consider the limitations of our situations, and work within them. Here are three commuting scenarios, and ideas for each that can maximize your experience and leave you feeling not frustrated, but fulfilled.

In the car…

The solo automobile drive into work is still one of the most predominant modes of workday commute for North Americans. It’s become synonymous with bumper-to-bumper traffic, furious horn-honking, and general discontent (an experience perhaps no better parodied than in this Office Space scene). Since we are occupied with the task at hand—driving—we have few options for recreation or engagement.

Gone are the days of I-Spy; cue the rise of podcasts! These longform audio reports have rocketed to the top of the North American consciousness with content that is tailored to each listener: some are humorous, some are hard-hitting investigative features, and some are simply educational pop culture commentary. There are dozens of podcasts for each niche and interest, so simply Google search an interest keyword and ‘podcast’ for an array of results. These will keep you stimulated and perhaps even laughing while you’re inching to work.

On public transit…

Podcasts are a fan-favourite for public transit commutes, too, which is why you’ll probably hear the occasional laughing outburst on the subway, or see someone nodding their head in agreement on the bus. But if you want to be more engaged in your surroundings while taking public transit (a safety measure for some), take out the earbuds and consider keeping tabs on your commute times.

There are a number of apps that allow users to track their daily commutes, like Commute Diary, Commute Tracker, and more. Tracking your commute provides you with useful data: you can average out commute times and see which routes wind up being the quickest, or which parts of the day are the slowest (which means you can schedule your transiting accordingly).

On a bike…

Podcasts and commute tracking apps are fair game on the bike, depending on your comfort level (we personally recommend keeping your ears bud-free, and staying attuned to your surroundings). But similar to the tracker apps we use on transit, we can access cycle-specific ones to keep tabs on our physical activity—something that often comes at a premium now, given long workdays and sedentary work routines.

Strava lets cyclists share their routes and progress with other cyclists on a social media-style feed, while monitoring essential info like HRM, speed, elevation, and other stats. Apps like these also encourage personal strength-building: once you have a time locked in, you can start working on personal-bests. This turns an average commute into a productive and healthy personal endeavour that benefits you outside of the workplace.


Walking the Talk During Mental Health Month

Spring’s popular portrayal as a season of change is cliche for good reason: like all good cliches, it’s come from truth. Winter eases off its chokehold on flowers and trees, creatures emerge from their wintery cocoons, and the sun hangs around a little earlier and a little later, much to the delight of most normal humans. Spring is a busy shoulder season for the human population, too. We shake off wintery routines and shift into new ones; more time is spent outside; and our lived experience changes just as much as the world around us.

That’s why May is the perfect time for Mental Health Month, an occasion observed around the United States since 1949. (That makes this year the 70th observance!) Mental Health America has led the campaign, offering toolkits and information packages for interested parties to access. This includes workplaces: corporate participation accounts for a significant portion of Mental Health Month activity, and activating these discussions in the office is important given ties between depression and the workplace in America.

Mental Health Month has traditionally centred around the tenet of awareness-raising, which is a critical tool in the struggle to address mental health. Destigmatizing is the first step towards healing and action. But it is striking that, 70 years later, we are having the same conversations centering on destigmatization and awareness.

This Mental Health Month, it is vital that we begin to shift the conversation toward more material means and supports. As important as programs like healthy eating and exercise regimens are to encouraging a stronger and more stable lifestyle, when these are the only topics of discussion or remedies available, they effectively silo and isolate the issue as one that can be fixed through physical activity or maintaining a better diet. The reality of the matter is that most mental illnesses require clinical treatment, which costs money—a lot of it.

When preparing discussions around Mental Health Month, consider shifting conversations from the abstract to the real: focus on access to resources, and how people are or are not able to receive the treatment they need. (This, of course, depends on group comfortability with these conversations. Each workplace is different.) Recent MHA data shows that over 56% of American adults did not receive treatment for their mental illness. Workers cannot function well if they are grappling with not just mental illness, but the additional stress caused by either an inability to address it or the financial burden of addressing it.

In America, where random health crises can still bankrupt and financially devastate a family, it is especially important to consider your responsibility to your workers. While many companies will offer health coverage, mental health services are often only available on more expensive plans, which means individuals will be less likely to access them. Democratizing those resources via more affordable insurance plans is one step you can take to ensuring workplace mental wellness.

While awareness-raising campaigns are still important, focusing solely on these can hinder our abilities to truly address mental illness. This Mental Health Month, stimulate open, supportive dialogue with your employees about what they need to ensure their mental health. This information-gathering can then be turned into action and policy at your company, when possible. But if you’re going to talk the talk on mental health, make sure that you can walk it, too.


The Importance of Saving our Sleep from Hustle Culture

The current overculture is filled with hair-tousling aphorisms about less sleep, more work. ‘Sleep is for the weak!’ ‘You can sleep when you’re dead!’ These aren’t just lighthearted ribs, though. Over the span of just 70 years, we’ve cut our average sleep time by almost 20%. This isn’t random—professionals attribute this loss in sleep to a variety of factors, including increased blue-light absorption, distractions from personal devices, and even being out of tune with nature’s ebb and flow thanks to central air and heat. March 15 is National Sleep Day, but you probably didn’t see an ad for it on your Instagram.

It’s difficult to pin this on just one factor, but what’s certain is that our sleep patterns are shifting, and that might not be a good thing.

Scientists have long drawn a link between sleep and mental health, such that their relationship is codependent. More than 50% of individuals seeking help for mental health-related issues also deal with sleep loss. Some have gone a step further, assessing lack of sleep as a cause, rather than a symptom, of mental illness. Regardless of the diagnosis, it’s clear that sleep and mental health are correlated—both in positive and negative ways.

But another factor is the way that modern work culture has both exacerbated and commodified our lack of sleep. This messaging is related to something called ‘hustle culture,’ which some describe as “the complete abandonment of finding healthy work-life integration.” This culture is defined by words like grind, and phrases like ‘striving and thriving’—and of course, hustle. It describes a particular type of work that never ends; it glorifies working ‘round the clock (on the subway, when you get home, from your bed) and abandoning sleep (‘We run on coffee and sleep deprivation!’ as cutesy, team-building mantra) in the name of constant progress.

But in this equation, it is worth asking who is progressing and ‘thriving,’ and who isn’t. The New York Times recently posed, “Why Are Young People Pretending To Love Work?” The crux of the critique, like most assessments of ‘hustle culture,’ looks at how employers use this language—coupled with appealing ‘perks’ like free coffee, a beer fridge, and a foozeball table!—to keep their workers motivated to work harder, faster, and later.

But this culture has disastrous effects on workers’ mental health. The term ‘Millennial Burnout’ was coined to describe this phenomenon, in which young workers are pushed to their physical, emotional, and mental limits by hustle culture’s demands, which are often disguised as cultivating personal excellence. Many are identifying the dangers in this lifestyle: lack of sleep leading to other mental health disorders, and compensating with accelerants that keep us ‘grinding.’

Poking holes in hustle culture means recognizing that sleep is necessary if we’re going to ‘rise and thrive.’ We can’t truly ‘win all the time’ when we’re working off of one meal a day, four hours sleep, and six coffees; the winner in this equation is the person profiting from our nonstop labouring. So by all means, work hard; do the best work you can do. But don’t give up your sleep. It’s more important than the hustle.


Widen Your Understanding During National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Each March brings with it an annual offer to reevaluate and recalibrate what it means to be ‘intelligent.’ Intelligence is a concept and a word that’s loaded with imagery: of a sharp, even-keeled, well-read, post-secondary-educated person, or a brainy, bespectacled, lab-coat-wearing tech prodigy. Intelligence is either attainable or unattainable based on how closely your brain’s function matches constructed ideals like these.

While there are class-based concerns with who is or isn’t considered ‘intelligent’—not everyone can afford a post-secondary education—perhaps the more pressing concern can be revealed through a lens of ableism. Ableism is the term that describes discrimination based on ability or disability. For example, folks who use wheelchairs experience ableism when they can’t attend an event because the venue isn’t wheelchair-accessible. This is a broad example of a deep-reaching issue that stems from the fact that modern society has been constructed entirely around the experiences of ‘intelligent’ and able-bodied individuals.

Disability-identified folks who do not align with this vision often face both latent and explicit institutional barriers to access. This includes people who live with developmental disabilities. Since 1987, the month of March has been designated as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in the United States, a campaign for disability rights and consciousness-raising across the country.

Most see the campaign as an imperative of sorts: to adjust our communities to meet the needs of disability-identified individuals. But it isn’t designed solely to affect the physical world—the campaign reminds us that these individuals have full, rich, nuanced, and diverse lived experiences. Ableist society is often structured such that these folks are viewed as inferior or in need of assistance, and while inclusive programming in our physical world is absolutely necessary, so too are inclusive understandings of what it means to live with disability.

A key part of understanding ableism is understanding that it is this very discriminatory mechanism that prevents disability-identified folks from accessing the aforementioned full, rich, nuanced, and diverse lived experiences. If ableism (and, as a result, a world developed around ableism) didn’t exist—if all spaces were perfectly inclusive and accommodating for all disabilities—these individuals would be able to navigate the world without concern, and their experiences wouldn’t be defined by deficit or inaccessibility.

While this paradigm-shift takes time, inclusive programming is an immediate and simple change to make that can benefit disability-identified folks in your community. This month, consider taking steps to ensure that spaces where events are held have accommodations for individuals who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids. For events with spoken components, look into hiring a sign language interpreter deaf folks, or for visual presentations, incorporate braille or tactile pieces that make the work accessible. These signal that all are welcome and considered.

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month isn’t just about awareness-raising; it’s about combating institutional discrimination against disability-identified individuals, and that’s a fight that we should continue all year long.


It’s National Eating Disorder Week: Here’s Some Facts to Bring You Up to Speed

From February 25th to March 3rd, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) will be highlighting its fight through National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year’s theme: Come As You Are, a theme dedicated toward inspiring body acceptance and positivity, which can help prevent eating disorders from manifesting. NEDA has also articulated that this year’s theme was chosen to highlight that eating disorders don’t discriminate and affect people across lines of gender, colour and sexuality.

About Eating Disorders

More than 30 million Americans struggle with some form of eating disorder. Despite their trivialization as a minor issue or a choice, someone dies approximately every hour, directly from an eating disorder.

While eating disorders conjure up thoughts of the calorically-deficient Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. and can increase the risks of other health issues ranging from diabetes to obesity. Another one that many people don’t know about but some shows have ‘popularized’ as a form of entertainment, Picais the compulsive eating of substances that are largely non-nutritive, including hair, soil, metal and more. Apparently, the disorder is on the rise – between 1999 and 2009, Pica hospitalizations increased 93 per cent, more than any other eating disorder. More forms of eating disorders exist, including those that don’t are more individual in nature,  previously categorized as “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS), which because of their lack of precedence, can be harder to treat.

How are They Treated?

Given the variety of eating disorders, symptoms and difference in psychological factors in each individual, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating eating disorders. Other health issues and complications that arise from eating disorders, like kidney issues for those suffering from Anorexia or heart disease in those with Binge-Eating Disorder, can further change a medical professional’s approach. The Mayo Clinic cites a multi-pronged approach that includes the development of a treatment plan, psychological therapy, nutrition education and medication and hospitalization, if required. There are many similarities in treatment to those with substance abuse issues – in fact, “50% of individuals with eating disorders abused alcohol or illicit drugs, a rate five times higher than the general population.” NEDA cites that as with substance abuse, early intervention in the fight against an eating disorder is essential.

Come As You Are and Get Involved

Ahead of National Eating Disorder Week, NEDA has launched the Body Acceptance Challenge; encouraging people to “reject diet culture” by accepting their bodies, respecting others and fighting weight stigma. They’ve also partnered with the Mall of America to provide training and support for its guests, tenants and employees.

There will be several Eating Disorder Awareness Walks held over the coming week across America: