Mental health: what you need to know
Preventative measures can help students combat depression and stress
Depression, anxiety and stress are enormous concerns for students and they are increasing — especially this season.
Sonya L. Flessati, registered psychologist and chair of Student Counseling at Mount Royal University, says “definitely you would see that November and March are key times of the year where students are feeling the need to access our services.”
21-year-old Farah Haque, third-year in the accounting program at MRU, agrees with Flessati, that dealing with her depression is more overwhelming during this busy period.
“You just don’t really have time to breathe,” explains Haque. “That’s kind of what I go through with my school things, I sometimes just feel overwhelmed with how much work I have to do to be perfect at school.”
“I feel like I just want life to pause, so I can take it easy and breathe while I focus on my own personal issues too. But school doesn’t offer time to do that, they just demand all of the assignments and midterms to be done.”
Shereen Samuels, director of Student Services for the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, agrees with Flessati.
“I would say that global levels of stress seem to be more significant almost every year — students report feeling stressed earlier and earlier.”
One reason that Samuels says she believes students are affected so much, and need to focus on their mental health, is financial trouble — they receive a large sum at the beginning of the semester, but do not know how to budget properly.
How should students prepare?
Rhonda Anderson, mental health facilitator for Wellness Services at MRU, says that students can prepare for the stress and demands by addressing what works for them individually.
“First of all, it’s important to have some self awareness around, ‘how do we feel when things are going well? How do we feel when we are meeting the demands and we are able to manage the stress in our lives? What does that look like? What does that feel like?’”
Beyond that, the two women from Wellness Services specify early intervention and balance, from time management, understanding class expectations, making sure students are engaged and are enjoying their studies, contributes to a better outcome.
“I think that’s one of the biggest messages we can send: you can do a lot of proactive things before the stress really starts building, so lay in place good habits around food, exercise, sleep, those kinds of things,” says Samuels.
How can students recognize if they are being affected?
Anderson and Flessati say that though it’s different for every individual, there are some other indicators to be aware of:
- Mentally: difficultly concentrating, remembering things and making decisions
- Emotionally: irritability, quick to anger or spend a lot of time crying.
- Behaviorally: looking to drugs and alcohol more than they normally do.
Losing interest in enjoyable activities, loss of energy, difficulty sleeping and eating without appetite are other signs.
It could get to the point where functionality is an issue — like getting up in the morning.
What should students do when the signs become apparent?
Anderson says, “I think if it starts to go on for too long, maybe more than a couple of weeks, and it starts to interfere with the persons ability to meet the day to day demands of life – those may be some signs that some other type of intervention might be necessary.”
Besides academic workshops that are available to students, Anderson and Flessati say that Wellness Centre offers counseling and workshops for students that address various things like anxiety and worry, Optimal Therapies for physical well-being. Career Services offers consultations for students unsure of their program and the Peer Education Program to available educate students and connect with them.
The Breathing Room is another resource, which is an eight-week, online resiliency-building program that addresses depression and stress management, which Anderson and Flessati both recommend to help students feel empowered.
At the critical times of year, there is the Season of Caring Program at the end of the fall semester that gives students gift hampers.
The Exam Relief program happens for five days specifically during the first week of exams. This semester it goes from Dec. 10 to the 16 (just the weekdays).
Included in the program is the puppy room, which is in partnership with Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) and usually runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Wyckam.
The Exam Relief Food Cart is also included and runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or until supplies last. It goes to different locations around campus each day and main street every day.
The massage therapy students have been involved in the past by setting up chairs and giving massages to students around exam time.
Peer Support Centre also has some exciting upcoming events. “They’re going to host a fort, a blanket fort. So people can go and hang out in there,” says Samuels.
All residence advisors at MRU have been trained to look for student trends on anxiety and stress and how to properly address these issues when they arise.
Says Kate Holowaty, a Resident Adviser: “I think it’s really important to make all students feel like they’re included, they matter and that we care and that the university cares and wants you to do well. I think those types of programs are really great, They’re definitely a step in the right direction with helping students with their mental health.”
Stigma surrounding mental health adds to lack of awareness, Holowaty adds.
“Don’t suffer in silence and freak out,” says Holowaty. “There’s just a lot of things you can do to address it to make it fun and to not make it like a scary issue because it’s normal. It’s normal to be stressed out, it’s normal to have anxiety, it’s a normal part of the university experience. It’s not a good part of it and it sucks but knowing that you are not alone, I think, is the biggest message you can send.”
What is being done to bring more awareness?
According to Anderson, SAMRU’s Digital Pathways project received $20,000 of funding from the Alberta Student Executive Counsel. The project will focus on raising awareness of mental health for students through social media. It will be done through Twitter and the hashtag #mruletstalk, Facebook and Hootsuite.
“I’d like to say that we do a lot, and it’s nice to see that people recognize that it’s an issue and they’re creating opportunities through this additional funding,” says Anderson.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to address some grammatical errors.