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McMaster used to have a forgery problem.

For a number of years, students were known for forging doctor’s notes to get out of assignments and attendance when they did not have symptoms of physical illness.

In an effort to deter students from breaking the law, McMaster initiated the Student Absence Form, or MSAF, that would allow students to excuse themselves, without providing a doctor’s notes.

The MSAF allows students to report instances of an absence that falls under one of the categories of “Illness” or “Injury.”

I recently filled out an MSAF for an illness that was brought on by an excessive amount of stress, and had it denied by a professor.

I chose to be honest in my report and explain to my professor how I was diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder two years ago, and while it is not something that affects me regularly at this time in my life, it is something that still comes up at times of high stress. I was told that these were issues “beyond [their] ability to accommodate,” and essentially, that the MSAF could not cover instances of mental illness.

When I brought up the issue with friends who needed time off for similar reasons, they asked me blankly, “why didn’t you just lie?” More professors seem to be accepting of physical illness over mental illness, and a number of students who suffer from recurring anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, will fill out an MSAF for physical illness, rather than confront the challenges that may come up from addressing their mental health.

McMaster created the MSAF so students would not feel the need to lie about being ill. Yet by declining reports of mental illness, it not only leads to false MSAFs, but it makes students feel ashamed of their health, and encourages students to second-guess and neglect their illness, which can lead to misdiagnoses over time, and the perpetuation of the idea that stress is not an illness.

While the Student Accessibility Services allow students who have ongoing concerns to receive accommodations, there are many students who, like myself, are only affected on occasion, and should not feel forced to register a “disability” that they do not believe requires constant accommodation. In the same way that someone who misses class because of re-occurring allergies throughout the year is not expected to claim disability, a person who has re-occurring mental illness should not be expected to claim disability.

The MSAF is a valuable resource that many Canadian universities do not have access to and that I am grateful to have. But if McMaster wants to stop students from filing fake illnesses, then they should start forging a better path for the acceptance of mental illness.

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