Colonialism’s Impact on Students

Colonialism and Student Mental Health

Colonialism had an enormous impact on those who lived within its grip. However, they are not the only people impacted by its legacy and present-day remnants. The descendants of populations impacted by colonialism feel its impacts as well. One way in which these impacts are felt is via mental health and wellbeing (Gone et al., 2019).

For Indigenous students, the mental impacts of colonialism are profound. Colonization stripped many things away from Indigenous people. Their land, resources, family structures, culture, language, and communal relationships sustained severe negative impacts from Europe’s colonial project (Potvin- Boucher & Malone, 2014). This decimation was not confined to Indigenous communities, it became embedded in post-secondary institutions as well. The oppressive structures seen within broader

society were replicated within post-secondary institutions and contribute to feelings of oppression and demoralization that Indigenous students may encounter when dealing with a post-secondary system that was not originally built to be welcoming to them (Potvin-Boucher & Malone, 2014). Consistently dealing with the stress of these issues can lead Indigenous students to experience depression, isolation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues that would require them to seek support (Wilk et al., 2017). But seeking support may be difficult for these students because they do not see themselves or their cultures represented in the programs and services available on campus. For more information on Indigenous student mental health, please see CICMH’s Evaluating Indigenous Needs on Ontario Post-Secondary Campuses webinar.

Other groups have suffered as well. One prominent example is students who identify as racialized women. Racial hierarchies established during colonial times saw racialized people valued as less than white people. Once again, these racial hierarchies made their way into the policies and practices of post-secondary institutions in both implicit and explicit ways. The policies, procedures, and practices on our campuses have lent themselves, whether intentionally or not, to perpetuating an atmosphere that allowed racism to flourish at the structural and individual levels. The racism and discrimination these students face can lead to feelings of decreased self-worth and demoralization, which can contribute to mental health issues such as depression and substance use disorders (Lal et al., 2021). Racism and not being able to access culturally appropriate services or providers who understand their life experiences, both create barriers to accessing mental health resources on campus and contribute to low mental health resource uptake overall (Lal et al., 2021). Continued discrimination coupled with a lack of services leads to a harmful positive feedback loop where the structural harms of colonialism that are built into post-secondary systems are continually perpetuated.


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