Breaking the Silence: School and Mental Health

By Nicole Beaver

 

Being a university student is never easy. Being a student while dealing with some sort of mental health complication is especially hard when you also have to fit in socialization, exercise, and a healthy diet. Post-secondary students tend to fall within a higher percentile for unhealthy habits, and reports of mental health issues among university students are on the rise. For some of us who are permanently disabled, the stress of schoolwork is not unfamiliar. I, myself, find my extensive note-taking mentally exhausting and need to take regular naps after studying for an hour or two. For all of us, stress is amplified when we take finances into consideration and, on top of that, our course loads.

 

The Globe and Mail reported in 2017 that “[a] fifth of Canadian post-secondary students are depressed and anxious or battling other mental health issues, according to a new national survey of colleges and universities that finds more students are reporting being in distress than three years ago. Reports of serious mental health crises such as depression and thoughts about suicide also rose.” Please take into consideration that, while this is alarming, media outlets often use “sharpening” and “smoothing” techniques to make scientific claims sound more dire or extraordinary than they really are. So, while I take this article with a grain of salt, I do believe that this is true on some level. As our economy keeps changing, so do tuition and fees. The expectancy to do well and keep up also plays a crucial role in our academic career. All of us will find ourselves stressed at some point, and others will feel simply overloaded.

 

To briefly summarize what anxiety and depression are, both can have equal causes (i.e. stress) and treatments (therapy), but they are separate mental health issues that may require different forms of treatment if suicidal thoughts occur or if they severely conflict with everyday life.

 

Depression symptoms include:

  • lack of interest in enjoyable activities
  • increase/decrease in appetite
  • insomnia/hypersomnia
  • lack of energy
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • trouble concentrating

 

Anxiety, on the other hand, is categorized by the following symptoms:

  • excessive worry
  • restlessness
  • being easily fatigued
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • sleep disturbance
  • muscle tension

 

While conducting research, I came across a source from the New York Times titled “The Season to be Stressed.” It is written by a fellow student. He states that his own university has seen “a 35% increase in student consultations.” As well, he himself deals with anxiety from the stressful environment. It’s not just Concordia or other universities in Edmonton. The combination of intensive courses, tuition increases, and our cafeteria’s less-than-stellar food all contribute to our mental health. We have less time to exercise because our assignments and readings need to be done, each class requiring its own study time. We have less money to spend on healthier food options. And the amount of grease and oil in much of the food we eat also affects how our brains work. “The first problems associated with heart disease start in the early twenties,” claims Melissa Wdowik, the director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center, going on to explain that arteries could begin to harden in college-age individuals who lack proper nutrition. The typical college diet includes a lot of snacks and lack of nutritious meals. Meal prep can be time-consuming unless you invest in a slow cooker.

 

How do we go about solving this? While we cannot entirely get rid of stress and anxiety, there are some things that might help alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed. For example, if you have taken out student loans or applied for grants/bursaries, the financial aspect has hopefully already been solved. If you do any sort of studying, whether on breaks or during your lunch hour, take the time to do so while also allotting time for breaks.

 

I have received some tips for effective studying from Mr. Garth Boyle, our resident Academic Strategist. Among the things he suggested, I found these to be the most helpful:

 

  1. Schedule a few hours each day to work on your schoolwork, and then relax.
  2. Start studying for a test up to two weeks in advance, going chapter by chapter.
  3. Take time for yourself.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for an extension if that is something your professor allows.
  5. Remember that you can only do your best; if you do your best, whatever grade you get was earned by your determination, and no one can say you slacked off.

 

That last principle was taught to me by my parents, and it’s served me well through my academic career. Finally, dear readers, remember to take things one day at a time. I wish you the best of luck as midterms close in.

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