Gabe Liosis is putting his mental health first and is stepping down from his role as president of the SFSS. (Gabe Liosis / Facebook)

Putting mental health first: SFU student society president Gabe Liosis announces resignation

"You can be an executive of a student society, you can be the president of the student society and still be depressed, you can still be anxious, and still deal with anxiety."

By Simran Singh | January 7, 2022 |5:00 am

Announcing his resignation in an open letter was certainly not an easy decision for Simon Fraser Student Society president Gabe Liosis.

In the letter published on Jan 5, Liosis detailed his struggle with anxiety and depression, which prompted him to step down from his high-profile student leadership role.

“This experience has been like none other than I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. Engaging in activism and advocacy on behalf of 25,000+ students and influencing change at the highest levels of this university, and beyond, is extremely rewarding,” he wrote.

“But in the face of these wonderful experiences, this job has also presented many challenges for me personally that I want to share with you openly which has led to my resignation.”

Liosis began his tenure with the SFSS in the spring of 2020 at the start of the COVID pandemic, when he first served as vice-president of university relations. This is when his mental wellbeing took a hit, and he “began to grapple with deep mental health challenges associated with social isolation and burnout, which worsened over the next 21 months.”

He said now he is experiencing severe anxiety and depression, and over the past two years of trying to balance being a student, the head of a student society, and the impacts of the pandemic, the anxiety has become unbearable and has only increased since returning to campus for in-person learning.

In an interview with the Beacon, Liosis said he is doing well and feeling the support from his family, friends, and peers.

“I think the worst part was the anticipation of it going out, but since my letter went out, I’ve been getting just a huge flood of support and a lot of people messaging me saying they appreciated how open I was and how honest I was and that they can actually see themselves in what I disclosed publicly,” he said.

Arriving at the decision to resign took him a “really long time”—he was thinking about last summer.

“It had gotten to a point where in July I had actually written a resignation letter. But I never did anything with it because I really felt like I would regret it in the future if I didn’t stick with it or try to push through it a little bit longer,” he told the Beacon, adding that he did not want to let anyone down after taking on such a big responsibility as the newly elected president.

But as the months rolled on, the stressors of his position and the state of the world in general, began to weigh down on him.

“You are required to be highly accessible and responsive to members, council, staff, and SFU at all hours of the day. That alone can be quite difficult for someone who is an introvert, where social interactions can be draining,” he wrote.

Liosis said the role of president also meant representing and advocating for friends, peers, and marginalized groups, and “you are expected to perform your best, as anything less will result in harm to those people and groups.”

He took time to reflect, and ultimately, he knew the right decision was to resign.

“It just really got to the point over the holidays where I had to ask myself: ‘Do the benefits of me staying outweigh the harm that I’m causing myself by trying to push myself through the end of my term?’”

And when it came to being honest and open in his letter, Liosis said he wanted to share his personal experience because he knows there are many others struggling with their mental health as well.

“I had a feeling that if I could talk about it openly, then people could see themselves in what I’ve been dealing with. And also for people to know that you can be an executive of a student society, you can be the president of the student society and still be depressed, you can still be anxious, and still deal with anxiety,” he said.

Ultimately, Liosis hopes students and others will take time to reflect on their own mental health and wellbeing.

“I want people to recognize in their own lives … if the way that they are thinking is anxiety or what they are experiencing is depression, because sometimes people don’t even realize what they are experiencing, and they don’t have to words to or they don’t know how to express them openly.”

Liosis’ resignation will come into effect on Jan 24. Vice-president internal & organizational development Corbett Gildersleve will serve as acting president until May 1, 2022.

Simran Singh

Managing Editor at Burnaby Beacon

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