Supporting Student’s Mental Health

Story by Kael Blackburn, Taneal Lockstadt and Cassy Nicholls

The charm of winter can fade quick after the holidays are over. The short days and gloomy weather can often bring on a bout of seasonal depression, and with many students returning back to school for the winter term, the issue of mental health is a prominent one.

Post-secondary education, for many, is the gateway into their career. It can be an opportunity to form long lasting friendships and can be a great avenue for self-discovery. However, it can also be the source of many stressors that can affect an individual’s mental health.

Kellsie McCullough, a fourth-year Bachelor of Film and Television student and peer mentor at Sheridan College, notes that the winter months are an especially difficult time for students and international students in particular, who may not be used to cold and cloudy weather. Many students live in basement apartments, where it can get dark. Getting back into the swing of school after the holiday can also be difficult. Finding a balance between school, work and a social life can be a cause of significant stress.

Lydia Muyingo, a PhD Candidate in clinical psychology at Dalhousie University. “Over 70 percent of mental health concerns start before the age of 24 years,” says Muyingo coinciding with the demographic that makes up most of the student base.

“One of the issues is we focus a lot on treatment and not enough on prevention as well, and supporting students before they even get to that point.”

Lydia Muyingo, PhD Candidate

For many students this may be their first time away from home and according to Muyingo, they may not have the supports they once had and that can leave them feeling isolated. A student may end up believing these are issues that they alone face, when in fact many students are going through the same thing.

While many colleges and universities have made efforts to raise awareness and provide services such as counselling for students struggling with mental health, stigma surrounding the issue still persists to discourage some students from seeking help.

Creating a conversation around mental health is an important step in reducing stigmas, and ensuring that students do not feel isolated. Sharing ways for students to use to keep their mental health in check is another strategy.

According to Muyingo, some ways students can help keep their mental health in check is just by keeping up with their physical health. Exercise on occasion, regularly getting enough sleep, and drinking water are great ways to help maintain good mental health or help give someone the boost they need to search out resources if they’re struggling.

Muyingo shared a technique for assessing individual burnout; the colour code technique. It requires you to identify your signs of burnout, and make them into a list. Then assign those signs of burnout to a colour depending on the severity. Yellow may be signs that indicate you are beginning to experience burnout, while red signs may mean it’s time to seek out help.

“If you’re a student coming right out of high-school and trying to find your own routine yourself it’s very difficult, [but] it doesn’t really matter what age stepping back into school and finding a routine can be a challenge,” says McCullough. The struggles many students face are often shared by a larger community. Starting the conversation, raising awareness, and pushing for resources to help struggling students are all ways to enact change for betterment of student mental health.

Sheridan College offers a variety of services for students who are experiencing mental health struggles. Through the SSU, students can access a 24-hour call line called Empower Me. Free counselling services are also offered to Sheridan students both online and in-person. Students can make a counselling appointment at the Student Centre for Success, by booking online or via phone call.