College counsellors here to help

BY AUSTIN WELLS

Stress is an inevitable part of being a human being. It can occur while working, and is an unfortunate part of the daily life of a college student.

According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. While stress itself is not a mental illness, it can augment an existing condition or help cause others. While living with stress, anxiety or depression can make life awful, there are always people to talk to in order to help you manage. One such option for Conestoga students is Counselling Services, which has offices located on every campus.

“Each semester, we usually see approximately 700 students in the fall semester and 700 in the winter semester,” said Shawna Bernard, a counsellor and co-ordinator of Counselling Services.

“Usually it’s about 1,300 individual students a year, or about 10 per cent of the student population accessing Counselling Services with over 4,000 appointments … in terms of the number of students booking appointments for support, the number has been slowly increasing every year.”

The fact that students have someone to talk to on campus is beneficial for those who don’t have time or money for off-campus psychiatrists or counsellors. However, not everyone has found that counselling helps. Jacob (a pseudonym), a former Conestoga student, said, “I struggle with severe depression, and when I was in school I tried to talk to counsellors on and off campus and a few psychologists, but none of them actually ended up helping me cope.

“The worst part was probably around 2014 where my sister began having an eating disorder, so being at home was an absolute nightmare. The counsellors and so forth didn’t actually help me, as they just focused on school and not on my problems.”

While counsellors and psychiatrists usually help, if they don’t, it’s important to find other ways to cope. Finding a hobby or distraction, like reading, cooking, games or even things like exercise and art are all proven mechanisms to help manage stress or anxiety and provide a distraction to the struggles of life.

Stress and mental health go hand in hand, and it’s important to not let one impact the other, as Conestoga student Jasmine (a pseudonym) experienced.

“School definitely caused a lot of emotional/mental strain for me, although I don’t know how much of that was related to which mental issue but it pretty much ended up in a vicious cycle of the depression feeding off the anxiety and vice versa,” she said. “In terms of family issues, I do imagine my parents would have preferred never to deal with this but unfortunately, they kind of had to.”

Another stressor for students this year in particular would be the five-week college strike that forced schedules for all students to be adjusted and assignments and exams to be crammed into shorter, more hectic periods.

“Immediately following the strike, people were attending classes,” Bernard said. “Following that, we had lots of students who accessed our service to help manage the stress from that. I think we had an increase at the beginning of January because students were still in their programs instead of on break, and they were studying for exams or working on projects over that break and coming back with little to no break going into the second semester.”

The strike was a burden on everyone, and it certainly caused additional problems for everyone. It’s important to know that Counselling Services exists, and that no matter what, people are always there for you to try and help you through whatever you’re dealing with. All it takes is to reach out to someone for help rather than suffering in silence.

“I think overall my advice is to reach out to Student Services, be it for accommodations, therapy or something else because you never know what might be helpful,” Jasmine said. “Also, being self aware is really important because if you feel like you’re going to go on a downwards spiral you can try to prepare to mitigate it at the very least. Having an effective support system of friends and therapy were probably the most helpful things for me personally, but, of course, it’s different for everyone so I’d say just give all the potential help things a shot at least once because you don’t know what will work for you until you try it.”

About Spoke

Spoke Online is produced weekly during the school year by Conestoga College second-year journalism print students, faculty adviser Christina Jonas and new media technologist Michael Toll.