Avonae Gentles thought everything was under control. 

A busy third-year Faculty of Health student, Gentles was juggling multiple responsibilities when her family was dealt an unexpected blow — her father’s diagnosis with lung cancer. 

Avonae

> Avonae Gentles 
> Third-year Faculty of Health student

“He never smoked [a day] in his life, he’s been a vegetarian for the last 30 years — he was the pinnacle of health,” Gentles says. “Then to find out it had spread to his liver … everything just came crashing down.”

With her father now off work and her mother solely supporting the family, Gentles took on a part-time job while continuing to manage volunteer and school work full-time. With midterms and assignments on the horizon, stress levels were mounting.  

The turning point, Gentles says, was when she was sitting in Waterloo’s Science and Technology Complex (STC) reviewing cue cards and her vision became blurred with tears. 

“I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t until I had reached that point where it was almost too much that I started to say, ‘well, I need support,’” Gentles recalls. “That was the only option left, and that’s when I started looking to see what’s available to me. What is the most immediate care that I can get?” 

Contacting Campus Wellness, Gentles was relieved to secure an appointment within minutes of her call. That in-person session turned into follow-up phone calls once the pandemic hit. 

“If I hadn’t been able to speak with someone that day, in that moment, I don’t know what would have happened.” 

Letting her experience be a lesson to others 

One year later, Gentles says she feels fortunate to be able to share her mental health story with others. Recognizing days like Bell Let’s Talk, Gentles is using her experience as the catalyst to speak up. 

“We keep everything packed up. We don’t talk about it or think that it’s real. But, with events like Bell Let’s Talk, you realize there’s actually a community of people going through the exact same thing,” Gentles says. “And what that presents you with is an opportunity to hold each other up, create a stronger foundation and move past each day as a community rather than an individual.” 

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians have reported a decrease in their mental health since the pandemic. Youth aged 15 to 24 reported the greatest decline in their mental health, from 60 per cent reporting positive mental health (pre-COVID) to 40 per cent during the pandemic (July 2020).

“The data speaks for itself,” says Walter Mittelstaedt, director of Campus Wellness. “It’s for these reasons that Campus Wellness has continued to proactively pivot and polish our services. No one, especially right now, should go without the support they need. This pandemic can feel especially isolating, and we want faculty, staff and students to know our community is ready to help.” 

The road to recovery 

For Gentles, working on her mental health remains a top priority, even when she feels fine.  

This shift in mindset has allowed her to continue focusing on her future goals, which is to pursue medical school where she can focus on female health and female reproductive health for marginalized communities. 

“I feel so fortunate that I can share this experience with those around me,” Gentles says. “You don’t have to maintain a strong exterior. You don’t have to maintain any form of strength because being strong isn’t what makes your mental health ‘good.’ It’s about being resilient and coming back to better understand yourself and your limits.” 

Students, faculty and staff can benefit from Campus Wellness services by visiting their website. If you are in crisis or worried about hurting yourself or others, call 911.  

Empower Me, Mental Health Resources can be accessed outside of regular office hours at 1-833-628-5589, where counseling is available via phone, video and in-person 24 hours a day, seven days a week and across twenty-two countries.