Conestoga Cares: First in a series on mental health

By Jaime Murdock, Spoke News

A lot of returning students are beginning to feel the pressures of school — some with no real way to cope with them.

Last year Conestoga College, along with other colleges across the province, dealt with the faculty strike, which set many people back. Some students removed themselves from their programs and received refunds, while other students went through a condensed school year.

For those already dealing with mental health issues on a daily basis, school stress can really take a toll. When the curriculum is then accelerated, it can make it that much harder to get going in the morning. Last year, some instructors were more lenient than others, but overall the consensus was that students were to finish their work and the school year as quickly as possible.

Ashley Sprague was one student who decided to leave Conestoga after last year’s strike because of the toll it took on her mental health once school resumed.

“I was really good in school before that. I got good grades, won an award and had a lot of fun. After the strike, it was so much pressure, so I had to drop out, resulting in thousands of dollars of student loans to pay back with no diploma to show for it. It’s been almost a year and I’m still struggling daily to make those payments. I’ll never be able to afford to go back to school now. My future was ruined because of the strike.”

Sprague felt as though promises made by instructors were not kept — promises that they would be understanding and that it would not be as stressful as everyone was assuming it would be. As with many other students, Sprague felt the pressures of school immediately.

“After the strike, they put so much on us after repeatedly promising we wouldn’t be affected,” she said. “I got so stressed out that my mental health deteriorated immensely. I almost felt like I wanted to kill myself. My mental health was never very stable to begin with, but I’d never been suicidal until that point.”

There are a few things Conestoga College does offer to students with regard to their well-being and that begins at the Conestoga counselling office. The office is located in 1A101 and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For students who prefer to set up an appointment from the comfort of home, the number is (519) 748-5220, ext. 3360.

Victoria Banman, a counsellor at Conestoga, said her department has the resources to help students who are struggling.

“We offer individual and group therapy, which helps students who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, relationship trauma and really any barrier that prevents them from succeeding academically. We run group therapy during both semesters that cover a number of topics, including mindfulness, self-compassion and critical thought.”

With regard to a student feeling embarrassed about meeting with a counsellor due to the stigma surrounding mental health, Banman said there should it should be no different than any other type of disease.

“When someone is diagnosed with diabetes, they make a change in their habits and in their lifestyle, just like someone who is struggling with mental health,” she said. “With both of these diseases, you may need to change your environment or start taking medication. Usually people are almost embarrassed by the thought of having to take care of their mind, but it is no different than taking care of any other disease.”

Students who feel apprehensive about seeking counselling may also consult a peer support navigator — someone who has experienced going to counselling for their mental health and has completed their post-secondary education. The navigator is able to answer questions about counselling through personal experiences in order to help students make the best decision about their health.