Earlier this month, the Graduate Architecture, Landscape, and Design Student Union (GALDSU), released the results of its first mental health survey conducted in the month of December 2013. The survey asked students to reflect on their experience at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto, with questions ranging from sleeping habits to issues of physical and mental comfort. The survey forms part of GALDSU’s Mental Health Initiative and was developed in collaboration with a doctoral candidate of the Department of Psychology of the University of Toronto.
Architecture schools have a long standing reputation as pressure cookers, where constant deadlines and a drive for innovation have created an environment where all-nighters are glorified and isolation from the outside world is prevalent. The report, now available online, reaffirms that many aspects of this reputation are well deserved. A majority of students reported irregular sleep schedules, often pulling all-nighters to finish projects, regularly skipping meals, and rarely engaging in physical activity. Many students also reported feeling the faculty was not doing enough to address issues of mental health and over 50% of them had considered quitting the program.
While underlining many problems, the report also highlighted stress factors that could be mitigated in order to improve mental health among students. Among these we can include improving interactions between faculty members and students, earlier announcements of important deadlines and events, and better coordination of deadlines among faculty members. Physical infrastructure improvements also scored high as a way of improving overall mental health, with students requesting an increase in quiet spaces and cleaner working environments. While many of these improvements will hopefully happen once the new building at 1 Spadina Crescent is completed, some of these issues can be addressed while the faculty remains at 230 College St.
After presenting the results to both the Registrar and Dean of the Faculty, as well as distributing it to all members of the Union, GALDSU has now entered discussions on how to improve many of the problems highlighted by students. Initiatives like the therapy dog brought in by the Registrar’s Office last month are only a small part of a larger re-evaluation of the culture within the faculty. GALDSU looks forward to working with the Registrar’s Office, the Dean, and the student body to continue the conversation on mental health and provide solutions to mitigate many of the stress factors in our environment.