Mental health at university

IMG_1371How do I start talking about mental health?

I could make an introduction by saying mental health is just as important as physical health or that we need to address and debunk the stigma around it – all of which is true, but that’s not what I want to talk about and you can read about it practically anywhere because, thankfully, mental health is becoming more and more present in society’s awareness.

What I do want to talk about is mental health within the context of your university career.

Look, any post-secondary education is already hard enough at the best of times. It’s busy. It’s a lot of work. It can stress you out. Imagine how much harder it can be when your brain is actually fighting against you as well. Your state of mind can affect your focus, motivation, energy and social life.

I know that when I’ve been struggling, academically or in terms of having my life together and being on top of things – when I reflected on it, I realized it was mainly because I wasn’t taking care of myself mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

By spiritually, I mean self-reflection and actively working on my peace of mind. Your definition for yourself doesn’t have to line up with that. Poor mental health has, in the past, caused me to be extremely distracted: not just momentarily, but in the way that my priorities get skewed around to dwelling on things, feeling miserable and unhelpful habits, rather than doing things that would make my life better and easier and ease my stressors in the first place.

And I’m not just talking about clinical depression, or severe anxiety, or even anything diagnosed at all. If you’re feeling off, that’s your mental health. If you can’t motivate yourself, that’s your mental health. No problem is too small to justify calling it your mental health. That acknowledgement can be a huge, helpful first step. Recognizing there is something wrong that is affecting you helps you deal with it and hopefully fix it. Think of it this way: even if you eat well, work out and your body is in great shape, we call that your health. Mental health does not equal mental illness and mental illness is not an insurmountable obstacle.

Here’s the most important thing I’ve found: Sure, school is stressful and it can make you doubt yourself and it can get you down. Living on your own and dealing with finances can be overwhelming, but I’ve found that the most noticeable and impactful stressor comes from relationships. It can be stress from your parents, your romantic relationships or problems with friends.

Relationships can be your comfort and your support system, but they can put you completely out of sorts and cause huge mental health problems. Make sure you’re open and honest with the people in your life. Communicate, and if you can identify toxic elements, solve them or cut them out if you have to and give others the chance to do those things as well.

If you can’t solve your mental health problems by yourself, no matter how small, reach out to friends or people you trust and try talking to a professional. You can find information for UVic mental health services here. If you’re having a serious problem, talk to someone anyone. When it comes down to it, people can be really decent.

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1 Response

  1. Dorothy Eggenberger says:

    Hi Amelia,

    I like how you’ve widened the scope of the term “mental health” to include mild stress and even the practice of sustaining mental wellness.

    As a student, it is easy to feel stressed or overwhelmed during midterms, deadlines, or exams. One practice that is frequently recommended to deal with stress is meditation. I have a hard time with meditation — anyone else get bored? — so I found a replacement: a Yin yoga class.

    Moksha Yoga Victoria describes their Yin yoga class: Yin Yoga explores postures in a passive receptive way. Postures are explored for up to 5 minutes allowing the body to slowly open and the mind to calm. This way of practicing puts gentle pressure on the connective tissue and the more subtle energetic system allowing for greater flexibility and energy flow. The relaxed pace and long holds also invite observation of the mental emotional body.

    I find the class active enough to keep my attention and focus, but passive enough to allow the “mindfulness” that is always highlighted in mediation. (Moksha Yoga’s Yin class is Sundays from 7:00 to 8:30 pm, if anyone wants to join!)

    What do you do to deal with student stress, Amelia?