It’s all valid: a talk with a mental health professional

Graphic by Kash Patel

This upcoming fall may end up being the most challenging term in recent memory. While Laurier returned to in-person learning during the final half of last year’s winter term, many will be returning this fall after years of online lectures. For many, this will be their first time attending lectures. With the return to in-person learning comes the added stress of living away from home and being in a lecture hall with classmates, – an anxiety-inducing situation for many. I sat down and talked with Julie Gamble, a mental health nurse at the Student Wellness Centre at Laurier Waterloo, about the stress that returning/incoming students face, how COVID-19 affected mental health, and some possible amenities and advice that students struggling with mental health should consider.

Here’s our interview:

Julie Gamble

How has COVID affected mental health?

From what I’ve seen, it’s really challenged our ability to cope with stress. We all know there are usual stressors, but [COVID] was a lot of intense stress, a lot of intense change… Although I very much feel that everyone has been doing their best, it does take a toll on long-term mental health… Everybody is in that boat where we’re all at a point of recovering; I think we’re at a point of recovery for sure. 

Do you expect more students to access Laurier’s mental health resources this upcoming year due to the circumstances? 

There are a couple of reasons why [the Student Wellness Center] are expecting an increase. One is heightened anticipatory anxiety; people are already worried about what will happen in the future. We’ve been put into this position where there is more uncertainty than usual. One positive that’s come out of the isolation is that people are now more comfortable reaching out and accessing resources; it’s become less stigmatized… we now have both an increased need and a decreased stigma. 

Do you think Laurier should be taking additional steps towards supporting mental health? 

I think things are currently in the works, both formally and informally. [Laurier has] programs and supports in place. We have workshops like ‘Ride the Wave’ that are trying to look at the social aspects that might not be what they used to be before everyone was isolated. We also have that kind of self-care coping under our radar… [additionally] professors are now aware of that adjustment; they’re validating to students that [mental health and transitioning back to in-person] is a challenge… I’m hoping that more and more, I’ll get feedback that the programs and professors are just taking into mind that this is an adjustment, and any adjustment and change takes time. 

How do you find poor mental health manifesting itself? 

Feeling of [being] out of control is one big one, but some of the other little red flags are changes in sleep, changes in eating, and changing in how you interact with your friends. We’re in a time now where being social in person might be overwhelming but if you find that you’re not checking in with your friends, even via social media as you normally would, or if you’re not getting back to people, that’s sometimes a warning sign that maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed. You might need to stop and check in. I find that reading week is a great test because on the medical side of things, we begin getting over our sore throats and flus. In my opinion, [aliments] combined with poor mental health and poor self-care, we reach the point where we are no longer getting small red flags but rather big red flags telling us that we need to take a break… It’s important to watch your physical health and to take it seriously when people that are close to you are concerned. 

Do you have any advice or tips to maintain positive mental health? 

I’m an advocate for at least some level of routine. Not only does routine allow you to make sure that you’re investing in self-care, investing in your sleep, but it’s also really great because it gives you early warning signal if that thinks aren’t as great as they should be.  

Are there any specific resources you’d advise students struggling with mental health to access, either on or off campus? 

There are lots of resources, the number one thing I want people to know is that it’s totally valid. Often I find that people think [their situation] is not ‘bad’ enough or they might end up gaslighting themselves thinking that their struggles aren’t real. Having connections in the community like Delton Glebe and Kids Help Phone and all those places, there’s no wrong pathway. If you’re coming in, and you have a concern, it’s a valid concern and weather you come to our councilors, me, an academic advisor or your parent’s EAP provider, that you are supported and validated in your concerns… Any door is the right door. 

Do you have any final message for incoming/returning students about mental health? 

Everybody is going to be stressed stress can be good stress or bad stress. The No.1 thing we can do is recognize and accept that and take the steps we are comfortable taking in finding ways to cope with that. Don’t ever feel that you’re alone or that it’s not valid. There are always going to be supports on campus, you’re not alone, you should ask for help. 

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