Dealing with stress at Laurier

With statistics of student unemployment at an all time high, divorce rates of parents at 43 per cent and well over half of students taking out loans to finance their education, stress on students is nothing new. Along with the usual essays, papers and assignments, students have a wide variety of issues to deal with this time of year.

Mental health and wellness is becoming a central issue at Wilfrid Laurier University, with senate decisions and new initiatives being introduced by the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU) in order to provide students with better resources and to reduce stigma.

One in four students are suffering from some form of mental health issue, and more are seeking help. But are they?

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) reports that almost one half (49 per cent) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about it. Counselling services on campus reported approximately 3,402 attended appointments in 2011 and that number has been steadily rising since 2002.

In order to decrease the stigma towards mental illness and seeking help, WLUSU is working through the means of a mental health strategic committee to provide students with the right resources and a safe space. The new initiative, titled “Student Connect,”hopes to provide students with a safe space where they can unwind, distress and connect to campus resources. Board games and other fun activities will be available to students in the Two-Four Lounge, where they can also sign up to have a student volunteer accompany them to get help or to campus events.

“It offers them a chance to break away from constantly studying,” said Miranda Priestman, WLUSU vice president of student services.
Nick Gibson, president and CEO of WLUSU, emphasized the importance of prevention and of mental wellness.

“The biggest thing too is that we’re trying to empower students to go [get help]; we need to get to the students before they’re at the point where they have to go there. We need to try to get to the students and support them before they have to go there.”

There has been also an increase in student appeals for accommodations due to mental health issues, but Deborah MacLatchy, vice president of academic and provost, was concerned as most of these appeals are retroactive.

“They may have been having mental health issues, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they went to a doctor or a counsellor for something like that,” she explained. “That then causes a challenge with us having to sort of understand the level of the difficulty that the student was going through when we don’t have any sort of substantiation like we would had the student had, you know, the flu or some other physical ailment to which they had gone to seek professional help from a health practitioner.”

Gibson agreed that physical wellness tends to get the limelight because it is so apparent. “I was playing soccer … and I got kicked in the leg. I didn’t play for the rest of the game but I decided in my greatest wisdom to play hockey that night, and I went to the hospital after because I was in so much pain.”

He added, “With that you can keep on letting it go forward, but with mental health and wellness, it’s as if ‘Oh, I went through that, tough it out.’ It’s almost like hazing in a way.”

MacLatchy agreed that mental health has become an issue on campus. “I think a lot of times students are suffering on their own without getting the help that they need. That’s a real challenge and part of it is that we don’t really recognize mental health issues when they arise, and there’s still stigma in some cultures to ask around.”

“There is a specific kind of culture behind mental illness at university. Stress tends to be considered a ‘fact of life’ or something that comes with attending post-secondary education. Rather than treating our triggers and our stress as important signals of mental distress and taking time to reflect and be self aware isn’t something everyone does, and it’s something everyone needs to do,” said Jon Pryce, ACCESS U president and WLUSU director.

Gibson wanted students to be aware of the options available to them. “My biggest thing is for people to treat mental wellness just like physical wellness, as the same thing. They’re much intertwined; we need to start using the same language. We need to mentally refuel; we need to take breaks, to challenge ourselves, to intellectually challenge yourselves. That’s what university is about.”

Students are encouraged to stay healthy mentally and physically and use campus resources such as Peer Help Line and counselling services, which will be included in course information next semester as a result of a unanimous vote at the November 28 senate meeting.

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