EngSoc President leaves mental health legacy on campus

Hannah on friendship bench

On paper, you are truly thriving. Yet on the inside, you struggle with depression so severe that your very existence is threatened. This is Hannah Gautreau’s story.

Imagine you are an upper-year student at the most innovative university in Canada. Your peers have selected you as one of their Engineering Society (EngSoc) presidents. You are also from the Maritimes and study here from out-of-province. On paper, you are truly thriving. Yet on the inside, you struggle with depression so severe that your very existence is threatened. This is Hannah Gautreau’s story.

In summer 2015, Gautreau hit rock bottom. When she realized her life was at risk however, she called the Here 24/7 telephone hotline and sought immediate medical attention. After checking into Grand River Hospital, Gautreau was diagnosed with clinical depression and began necessary treatment for the condition.

These days Hannah is a crusader for mental health awareness, both in the Faculty of Engineering and on campus at large. In fall 2015, the management engineering student led efforts to install a bright yellow Friendship Bench in the Engineering courtyard.

The Friendship Bench is a mental health awareness initiative established in memory of a young man who took his own life. Located at secondary and post-secondary institutions across Canada, Friendship Benches symbolize the need to take care of one another and to have honest and open discussions about mental health.  

The bench provides a reminder of the mental health resources available on and off campus, says Hannah. It is there to remind students that a simple hello can go a long way in helping someone with their own struggles with mental health.

Hannah invites students to sit on the bench outside Carl Pollock Hall and discuss any subject, mental health included. By establishing this physical infrastructure, she hopes to break the stigma around mental illness and make students more aware of health resources on campus.

People think of mental illness as binary: you are either mentally ill, or you aren’t. This is fundamentally wrong. If you look at physical illness, you aren’t perfectly healthy or terminally ill. We need to transition into looking at mental health as part of our overall health and wellness. Mental health resources are just as important as physical health resources, and we need to make sure that are as readily available and being used to their fullest

Although Gautreau is currently on a co-op term, she remains committed to diffusing the stigma of mental illness on campus as EngSoc B President.

Being president has really helped me push my awareness initiatives at UW because it has provided a lot of connections within the faculty, and has made it easy to connect with students and start a discussion among the entire Engineering student body.

Hannah encourages anyone searching for mental health support to take advantage of individual and group therapy at Counselling Services, emergency service providers or various community resources available in the Waterloo Region. 

Thank you for your dedication to students’ wellbeing, Hannah - and congratulations for leaving such a meaningful legacy here at UWaterloo.

Update (August 2018)

Plastic goose on the Friendship Bench.

The Friendship Bench remains a bright spot on campus!

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