OPINION: Mental health issues continue affecting academics for university students

BRANTFORD – Post-secondary education is a time of academic and mental stress for both first year students and returning ones.

It is a very different atmosphere than high school, where most students will be entering from. It is often the first time that students live on their own, are given independence, and are forced to be responsible for their course loads in addition to their physical and mental health. As a result, students often become disconnected as a result of the freedom of the social and academic parts of their new and exciting lives.

University can be a very intimidating time for those who are entering from high school. Students feeling unprepared for the new life they have chosen is becoming more the norm as time goes on. High school does not properly prepare you for the demands that University will ask of you. Personally, I was was raised my entire life to be very independent. As a result, I had already learned to do everyday things on my own to survive. That being said, I still I have had certain troubles adjusting to this new university life and all that it entails. Though I have struggled with mental health problems my whole life, I had been previously able to manage without physician help in high school. After coming to university I quickly realized how unmanageable my mental health had become. It was very evident I had reached the point that required me to seek physician help. Factors such as larger course loads, living away from home, and being in residence come into play to create such concerns.

According to the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, more than one fifth of Canadian post-secondary students are depressed and anxious or battling other mental health issues. Continually, The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services also learned that eight per cent fewer students then in 2013 felt their health was very good or excellent. Between three and four per cent more said they had experienced anxiety, depression, and stress that had affected their academic performance. It is clear that many post-secondary students are feeling the effects of school stress impact their overall well-being and this is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.

As a student currently enrolled in Wilfrid Laurier Brantford for a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, I can speak to the truth behind the many statistics backing up the rise in mental health issues. As noted earlier, having noticed the past struggle in my life with mental health issues, I decided that it was time for me to visit the Student Wellness centre to see a doctor and mental health nurse to try and deal with my growing problem. Unfortunately by the time I was prepared to ask for help, it was too late. By the time I got in to see a doctor and had the opportunity to make a plan to try and overcome the problems associated with my mental health, I fell behind in my academics. The already heavy course loads became a problem for those days where I just didn’t want to get out of bed, or was too anxious to attend study groups, or study for midterms. In return, I had failed one of my midterms which severely impacted my grades and the average I need to maintain for my program, a C+.

There are many amazing initiatives on campuses of most post-secondary institutions that aim to help students feel safer in coming forward to speak about mental illness. According to Ms. McGrath, a member of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, campuses are creating environments where students feel it’s safe to come forward, thus, likely explaining the rise of students seeking physician help. Although this is a statement of positive outcomes to on campus programming, much still needs to be done both on and off campuses to continue aiding post-secondary students. I think that there needs to be more of an emphasis to go visit help centres, such as a Student Wellness Centre, like we have here at the Laurier Brantford campus. Through my own experience I can say that I was intimidated before going to the Wellness Centre. It was not until my mental health issues seriously affected my academics that I decided to go, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help and encouragement from my roommates.

We, as university communities, must continue to work together with students, professors, and outside resources to continue to maintain the great progress that is being done, in addition to continuing the work that still needs to be done. There should also be more programming and funding put in place to further the progress and positive outcomes that current standing programs have created.

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