The Importance of Utilizing Mental Health Services on Campus: Post-Secondary and the Archetype of the Depressed College Student
As the leaves begin to wilt into shades of amber and brown, we’ve found ourselves at the start of another school year. For some of us, this will be a nerve-wracking (but exciting) year of change as we enter a new school environment, be it high school or post-secondary institution. For others, it’s just another school year. However, since beginning university, I have noticed that there is a significant difference in preparing yourself to head back to post-secondary than there is for high school. For one, there’s so many stereotypes surrounding post-secondary students; in the eyes of society, we’re either party-animals, or surviving off an hour’s sleep with nothing but coffee and instant ramen in our system to keep us afloat. In any case, neither of those is very healthy. University has been normalized as an incredibly strenuous time in your life. You’re faced with an incredibly heavy workload and a ton of new responsibilities. On top of that, it can be difficult to make friends in such a large environment. You go from seeing your friends every day in high school, to once a week in your classes (and that’s if you’re lucky).
The point is post-secondary is no walk in the park; it’s designed to be difficult. This can leave a highly negative impact on one’s mental health. Now, this isn’t exactly anything new.
Mental health challenges have always been a large cause for concern amongst post-secondary institutions. However, there has been a surge since the COVID-19 pandemic. In a nationwide survey of Canadian post-secondary students who had begun utilizing mental health services on campus, “95% reported feeling overwhelmed, 83.7% reported experiencing severe anxiety, and 81% reported feeling isolated and lonely” (Ogrodniczuk et. al qtd. in Moghimi et. al). With the growing mental health crisis on campuses, mental health resources have become a much
larger priority for many campuses across Canada. Many campuses are now complete with wellness centers, support groups, counseling, accommodation services, student life programs and so much more.
So…There’s Help Available. What Now?
Even if there are many resources available on campus, I can see why some students may be skeptical or resistant to reach out for help. What if people aren’t empathetic about your situation? It’s a campus, how effective can the mental health services actually be? Do I even have time to reach out for help? All of these questions can make it easy to turn a blind eye to the anxious skin picking or lingering feeling of emptiness in the back of your mind. I know because I did it for a long time. I go to University of Toronto Scarborough, where we have all the mental health resources you can imagine. Mental health and wellness are constantly promoted at the school, there’s a wellness center, mental health groups. But it wasn’t until the end of second year that I finally decided to get some help, even if I had been struggling with my mental health since I was about 14.
Reaching out for help (especially on campus) can be intimidating. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to function as a normal student anymore. What if they wanted to give me medication I didn’t want? What if nothing was wrong with me and I was just being dramatic? The worry started to invade my brain again. And if that’s happening to you, I need you to remember one thing. No one can do anything to you without your consent. Any mental health services available to you are up to you to take. Your body, your mind, your choice. You are the one in control. In my case, I began with some light counseling, and then I met with one of the family doctors at my campus for a mental health assessment for a diagnosis so that I could figure out how to get the proper treatment. It also helps that because everything was under the mental health services at my school, so everything was in one place. Not all campuses are the same. But my biggest piece of advice is to make use of what’s available to you. Your campus is essentially your home for the next few years, and you may as well try to make it as enjoyable as you can.
Even if you don’t feel your mental health is struggling, sometimes it’s just nice to go to counselling to talk to someone about something that may be stressing you: an essay, group project, maybe even something unrelated to school like your job. Remember that being open and talking about your mental health with the right person never does more harm than good. It may take you a few tries to find the councilor you connect with, or find the kind of therapy that feels right, but never give up. Keep trying, someone out there understands you.
Moghimi, Elnaz, et al. “Mental health challenges, treatment experiences, and care needs of post-secondary students: a cross-sectional mixed-methods study.” BMC Public Health, vol. 23, no.1, April 2023, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-15452-x.
Ogrodniczuk, John S, et.al. “Who is coming through the door? A national survey of self-reported problems among post-secondary school students who have attended campus mental health services in Canada.” Counseling & Psychotherapy Research, vol. 21, no. 4, July 2021, https://doi.org/10.1002/capr.12439.