Schools examine student stress

A rapidly increasing amount of attention is being placed on the mental well-being of Canadian students.

Research by the Canadian Mental Health Association has shown that over 15 percent of Canadian university students will be diagnosed with mental illness during their university careers. Additionally, suicide is the second-most common cause of death among students (behind alcohol-related fatalities).

As part of training for Residence Life dons at Wilfrid Laurier University, much emphasis is placed on recognizing signs of stress and depression. For several years now, more thorough attention has been given to the subject at Laurier, though it has become standard practice for other universities in Canada recently.
“This is a transitionary period for a lot of these students emotionally,” explained Laurier’s councillor-in-residence Heather Landells. “They’re coming to terms with a lot of things — independence, relationships, sexual orientation.”

Associate director of residence and learning at WLU Dave Shorey added that transplanting students into a new physical environment only adds to that confusion. “You could be going from a really small rural area to here, or it could be the opposite; you could be coming from a really large city,” he explained. “You also have to adjust to things like a different schedule … you’re not just learning from eight to three anymore, and that’s hard for some students.”
Unfortunately, over half of Canadian students diagnosed with depression will drop out of university.

Shorey and Landells both stated that there is not one single cause of the alarming statistics concerning university students, and that academic pressure and social anxieties are both common contributors to distress in students.
Landells will serve as a councillor who specifically assists first-year students to deal with issues from missing parents to not achieving the grades they were hoping for. “All of these can weigh so heavily on a young person,” she said.
In a growing trend over the past ten years, significantly more Canadian university graduates have opted for college certificate and diploma programs post-grad rather than master’s programs.

Shorey said that though there may be some cases where students find that university is a poor fit, some may feel intimidated by university due to other factors.

“In some cases they might need to go back home, go back to high school for a semester, upgrade their grades, maybe find a program that is a better fit for them,” he said.

Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union president and CEO Nick Gibson, has been teaming up with various departments of WLUSU to introduce a mental health audit in order to better serve the needs of students struggling with stress.
Gibson and his team have met with both internal and external coordinators of Peer Help Line to find a way to revamp the service to aid even more students in need. Gibson mentioned the possibility of a moderated blog on the WLUSU web site.

“Nowadays people actually aren’t using their phones as much to talk,” he said, “So a moderated blog is one thing we’ve looked at for those who might not necessarily phone in.”

Gibson noted that mental strain is akin to physical strain, though more focus tends to be on the latter.

“If you work out for hours and hours without a break and you push yourself really hard, you’re going to get tired and hurt,” Gibson said. “It’s the same thing if you study for a very long time during exams or something without a break.”