The route ahead

Illustrations by Brittany Brook

Illustrations by Brittany Brook

When you don’t know the bus schedule, you look it up. When you don’t know how to read it, you do a quick scan of all the information and your brain tries to process all the numbers and times together into something logical. Essentially, you try harder. Eventually, you ask someone more schedule-literate than you. They help you figure it out, and off you go to on another adventure because you have to keep going. It’s a very basic logical progress from “I don’t know” to “I need help” to “I know now”. This model applies for other instances in life too, like trying sushi for the first time or learning how to drive- heck even parenting is a sort of extended question and answer period. It’s a very “millennial” generation way of thinking- to see a problem, get help and move on. Unlike our grandparents’ generations, we have unlimited resources, maybe even too many, to try to find answers to our everyday shortcomings. It’s probably because our generation isn’t afraid to talk about things- we have been raised as critical thinkers because we’ve been given so much to choose from, usually presented on a silver spoon. The more recent pushes for mental health stigma ending efforts such as BellLetsTalk or even the fact that “mental health” is a buzzword in our everyday rhetoric, now proves that this a concept we can all sit with somewhat more comfortably than previous generations.

Why do we not apply the same logical methods for mental health as we do bus routes?

A very common idea about mental health is that we need to reduce the stigma and we get people talking about the issues everybody can face; everybody meaning the one in five Canadians who will go through a mental health related issue at some point in their life.

“The stigma has been reduced. We’ve started to talk now. The concern is we need to keep the dialogue going”. A sentiment shared by many is actually spoken from Les McCurdy-Myers, originally trained a psycho-therapist is now manager of personal counselling services at Brock University who has been employed with the institution for over 35 years. Les has been working with students at Brock for longer than most undergraduates have been alive.

If anyone as seen it all, it’s him.

“Mental Health is a huge buzzword right now, not just here but across the nation, even the continent. We are seeing students with more complex kinds of concerns, who require more of our time. It was clear something needed to be done and it happened on many levels. The government provided more financial support and students have started to engage. Organizations have come out of this movement like Active Minds and business has joined in with initiatives like Bell’s LetsTalk. Everyone is working to fight stigma, and help those who need assistance get it, but we are not home free.”

Talk is talk, and although it’s a step in the right direction, but there’s yet another part of the conversation that isn’t so explicit.

“I do believe that talking will become easier; there was a time when cancer was not talked about. now look at where we are.”

When we think of cancer patients or even families affected by the disease, sympathy is usually expression that comes to mind. A very simple “the worst things happen to the best people” kind of thinking is a mutually shared expression of grief. Unless you’ve been in a similar position it’s hard to empathize. The difference between empathy and sympathy have to do with a lack of a response of action: sympathy means feeling sorry for someone, empathy means understanding what it’s like to feel what someone else is feeling. The latter is usually more productive to the process.

Perhaps one in five of us can empathize with what it means to have a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean the other four are useless in this discussion. Nor does it mean that those other four haven’t encountered feelings of loneliness, depression, anger or even apathy in their lifetime.

Not everyone who goes to counselling has a MH issue; it may be a situational thing”, Les explained. “A lot of people feel angst and worry. It could be from your relationships falling apart; adjusting to school, a little slump, anything, really. Grieving is a good example, it is natural to feel bad when we suffer a loss and getting over that is a process that people handle differently. If you are grieving it doesn’t mean you have a mental illness however you might find it helpful to talk with a counsellor about what you’re feeling.”

It’s human nature to not have all the answer; it’s a human condition to need counsel and it’s a very human thing to not feel okay. There are a lot of people who have inhabited this earth. Many of whom were lost to mental illness and man are still suffering silently. What happens when we open up and be there for one another instead of quietly passing each other in the hallways, only to go home and think about why we are the way are?

Healing happens, that’s what.

There are so many services at Brock that can very easily be a part of this healing process. Les was able to share insight into the personal counselling services which he said is set up differently at different schools.

“First of all, personal counselling is free here and there is no limit on the number of sessions. At some schools, students can only access counselling a certain number of times and at one if you want more you have to pay.”

Les also explained that the wait list is handled differently: “Other schools may see a student that day, with an intake session, and then they are assigned a time to see a counsellor in three or four weeks. If a student makes an appointment with us, we try to get them in within five business days of booking. After that they should be able to see their counsellor again within ten business days, as needed, for the duration of their counselling. Of course someone in a crisis is seen the same day.”

Les continued on to explain that personal counselling records are kept separately from other school records; all remains confidential. Each student completes a basic intake form at the start of their session, on the basis that covers duration of feelings, kind of support system, substance habits or any other relevant information.

Then the real work can begin.

“You’re not going to lie on a couch and talk about why you are feeling the way you’re feeling. We operate from a brief model, based on research. We will give you the tools for the moment and aim to give you specific strategies to deal with your feelings or situations in the future.”

The strategies include recommendations to see a doctor; working out a strategy to deal with conflict. While these services are free, no-shows to appointments will be charged, only because of a demand for such services and a need to keep scheduling time wisely.

“The university does a pretty great job at providing resources for folks with mental health issues. Students can get medication if they need it in health services and the student development center can provide Personal Counselling. Also in the SDC students with proper documentation, can receive accommodations that can make a world of a difference from the Services For Students With Disabilities.”

Melodie Shick-Porter, Director of Student Health Services, offered insight into the SHS services that Les described. “Our team provides on-going primary health care to students and we are open daily, Monday to Friday, with available appointments and walk-in hours 3 times per day, so students have easy access to medical services, especially if in a mental health crisis,” She explained that SHS identifies and manages the care for many students with mental health concerns on a daily basis. At Harrison Hall, a team of nurses, doctors and specialists who have the ability to treat Mental Health symptoms. “We do encourage students with mental health issues to actually book an appointment , so we are able to dedicate more time to them”

Melodie echoes the same sentiments are Les, nothing how supportive of a community Brock University “We are fortunate to work closely with all Brock and community services that provide support for students. We work in a circle of care which means that we are all aware of the services that each of us provides and work together if needed,”

It is the specific support from the personal counselling services and SDC and coupled with other support services that make up several avenues for receiving mental health support. Other resources include Cope Care Connect- a movement at Brock aiming to provide support between students, or Active Minds, who promote mental health education and resources. BUSU’s Wellness Week was the first step in the direction of Brock-specific support. The platform of the Student Life Fee was a push towards more mental health services in general. Point being, there are several avenues you can take on the route to working on your own mental health.

Okay, pop quiz:

Question: Which of the following statements are true:

a) When things change, I will be happy

b) When I am happy, things will change

This is a pretty common question that can stem to a lot of life issues. The common ground between asking this question for a relationship, a career move, a family issue or any sort of personal experience is that it’s all up to you.

Answer: both. It’s a give and take in the battle to get and maintain that feeling that constitutes “healthy”. You may have to cut out bad habits, you may have to force yourself into good ones and you may have to even get a little dirty in your fight to get happy. Change in itself is often associated with happy because it presents a sense of hope and begins to manifest itself into creating possibilities.

But to do any or all or even more of those things, you have to choose happy and you have to choose healthy. Even if you don’t believe it, you have to feel it and you have to want to make it work. Slowly, things get better and things start to change and then they’ll get even better than they already were.

Then, the hard part: maintenance. It’s hard to choose happiness and health every day; it’s hard to see the good in terrible situations, it’s difficult to believe that you’re efforts are actually doing something.

But, I’ll tell you one thing- it’s harder to just be sad every day.

It’s not going to be easy but it will be worth it. I’m not telling you to be perfect, I’m encouraging you to be honest; I’m asking you to be brave.

Take it from someone who has had to deal with an onset of anxiety for the better part of the last few years. I can tell you that the first time that I felt better was after I had gone to talk to a pesonal counsellor at Brock. It was early Fall of 2012 and I was on the verge of quitting and giving up in so many ways; but one 50-minute session lifted my shoulders high enough to carry me to the next day, and the next day. Two years later I’m still here, better off than ever before, and doing something I love to do-writing.

What made the most sense for me was not medication, but a holistic approach to my mental health. That meant making sporadic trips to the Student Health Center just to check in; keeping a stricter diet of more greens, less gluten, and taking time for myself everday. I don’t drink as much anymore and I try to go to bed before midnight because I think there’s something comforting of putting each day to rest and starting again. I had to start writing journals, blogs and now the paper to keep lifting my spirits- turns out, I found an outlet. I realized that I have anxiety; anxiety doesn’t have me. There is a sense of ownership in that sentence that I love- I am the one in control of my thoughts. I am a lucky girl. You may need more or less support than I do because you may have more or less work that I have to do to wake up everyday and live a life I love to lead. But if you put both of us in front of a bus schedule, we would read it different, but surely find our way home, eventually. Hopefully on a bus more comfortable than the 116.

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