As unfortunate as it is, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that there is a mental health crisis afflicting post secondary students worldwide.
The number of students who struggle with mental health issues throughout their time at university is far larger than it ought to be. Sometimes, it’s something they’re predisposed to that only reveals itself in the midst of the pressures of higher education. For others, the crushing weight of newfound responsibilities and stresses take a toll on an otherwise stable individual. Struggles with mental health can come out of nowhere, paralyzing students and holding them back from succeeding. Most importantly, mental health issues can take hold of just about anyone.
To some, it may seem that struggling with mental health is just a given at this period of life. Taking on university means meeting crucial deadlines, adjusting to new environments, ensuring tuition can be paid, managing heavy workloads – this list is only the beginning of it all. Ultimately, university life means there an overwhelming amount of pressure that perpetually weighs students down.
Anxiety, stress, depression – it all comes with the territory, it’s normal, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and treatment is always on the table. This is quite easy to say, and while it may be the truth, there is still a looming epidemic that needs to be addressed now more than ever.
Many reports published in the late 2010s have suggested that there is a steadily rising prevalence in mental health issues among postsecondary students. It has become so severe in recent years that there has even been a drastic leap in the amount of students who consider suicide over the course of their university careers. It’s a hard truth that may come as a shock to some; for others though, it’s a heartbreaking fact of their daily life as they pursue higher education.
This harrowing reality is not something we can hide from. Thankfully, there’s always help available – nowadays it can be found right on campus.
It goes without saying that mental health support from their university is crucial for students to thrive. Not all students may have the time or access to therapy outside of their school and therefore, counselling services provided by the university are essential. For a university student, the knowledge that they can seek the assistance of an on-campus support system takes at least some of the weight off of their shoulders.
There are a wealth of services at Brock University in place with the intended goal of supporting students through mental health struggles.
For instance, the Brock Student Wellness and Accessibility offices give the opportunity for students to book personal counselling sessions. Student Health Services also provides appointments with a number of physicians, nurses and mental health nurses.
Brock also seeks to accommodate urgent situations in which there is no time to make appointments. This is ensured with 24/7 counselling over the phone and daily periods of walk-in half hour counselling sessions over the course of the school week, both done with the intent of ensuring students’ health can be attended to even when a personal counsellor isn’t available to them.
For further assistance, Brock’s website offers a number of crisis hotlines, external mental health support systems and information pages detailing the symptoms and treatment of mental health issues common in university students.
All of these services are completely free for students and anything said while utilizing them will be kept confidential where legal.
While having these services in place seems helpful, there is still the question of whether or not they perform as efficiently as they could. We reached out to students who have made use of the mental health support available at Brock in order to get a firsthand perspective into how Brock treats its students in time of dire need. Two students in particular shared in-depth experiences with us, offering both positives and negatives about Brock’s mental health initiatives. Both asked to remain anonymous and will therefore be referred to as Student A and Student B.
Student A has had extensive experience with the different mental health care facilities and resources available at Brock. According to Student A’s account, it seems that the array of mental health resources available at Brock just about matches up to the different degrees of helpfulness they may provide. He spoke highly of certain aspects of the Brock mental health support system.
“The mental health nurse and in-house doctors seem to be very helpful and do a great job providing mental health supports in my experience,” he said. “In general, on-site trained medical personnel, Student Accessibility Services case managers and exam center staff and psychology professors are great.” However, this was in stark contrast to other experiences he had had with mental health support around Brock.
“On the other hand, the counselling services at Brock seem to be – at least, to myself and others I know – very spiritual and unscientific, thus providing ineffective care for people such as myself that rely on more evidence or action-based methods of treatment,” he stated, later adding on that he had trouble taking the mental health counsellors seriously at all as a result of being “a bit too spiritual” and “too new-age”.
One example of this includes the resounding emphasis on mindfulness, a meditation exercise with its own page on the mental health section of Brock’s website. While mindfulness has been proven effective as a coping strategy and relaxation technique, this exercise and similar ones are not the action-based answer some students are looking for to assist with their issues. Nothing is going to work for everyone and it seems as if the focus on mindfulness is leaving some students behind.
Student A expressed even further dissatisfaction with the counselling services available at Brock for their inability to offer anything more than simplistic help one could have figured out on their own.
“[The counsellors] weren’t able to provide me with any solutions that went beyond surface level. I found that they had the same treatment methods as one might find by doing a quick google search. They weren’t prepared for anything deeper.”
Student B echoed this sentiment in her own testimony about the mental health services at Brock.
“The mental health nurse that I interacted with didn’t provide any solutions really. I suggested some time away from school – mental health leave – which I took, but other than that I relied on friends and family for coping mechanisms, and nothing was suggested for when I returned back to school either,” said Student B.
Where Student A was able to draw from a lot of interaction with the mental health support available at Brock, Student B did not have as much, but it was for an important reason.
“My experience with mental health on campus has been limited since my experience was so poor that I never went back,” she admitted.
Piling on top of this, both students felt underestimated and belittled in their respective experiences with mental health counselling at Brock.
“The ones that I’ve met with treated me as though I had the understanding of a child,” said Student A.
Student B stated that the mental health specialist she spoke to was particularly unhelpful in supporting issues that only students of colour face, causing her to worry about how the system overall may impact people of colour who seek help.
“When I shared my experience about the racial trauma that I had experienced, the mental health specialist dismissed me and said ‘there are just bad people in the world’, without acknowledging the impact that experience had on my mental health,” she said. “I felt belittled and silenced, and this was very difficult for me. The only support I received was from friends and the black community at Brock. They were the only ones that understood the seriousness of my trauma and helped me through it.”
Student B went on to say that she knew people within the black community at Brock who shared similar experiences, even stating a few of them had gone so far as to recommend not making any use of the school’s mental health services.
As a student, however, caring for one’s mental health does not stop at the counselling services around the school. Seeing as sources of stress are widely found in the classroom, professors and teaching assistants must be capable of taking the health of their students into consideration. Difficulties with mental health can end up being needlessly detrimental to students’ grades, causing absences from class or an inability to perform in exams and complete assignments.
Seeing as stress from academic life itself is a particularly important concern in dealings with university students who are mentally struggling, finding ways to handle these school-related stresses are of great importance. For some, finding a way to combat academic-related stress may solve their problems altogether.
Student B particularly found that explaining academic struggles from the perspective of a person of colour was difficult for her, as the mental health specialist she was speaking with couldn’t seem to understand where she was coming from.
“I don’t think that they truly understand the additional stress that people of colour have to do well in school because, for us, we are always a reflection of our entire communities, so that was also difficult to explain.”
In terms of academic stress, one would hope that if a mental health crisis were to come up, professors throughout the school would be just as supportive as the counsellors are meant to be. Even if professors lack the education and skill in the delicate area of mental health issues, assistance and support from them is essential.
Regarding the topic of professors’ ability to assist students through mental health struggles, both Student A and Student B said they were lucky enough to find some of the help they needed.
“All of my professors were respectful of my mental health leave,” stated Student B.
Student A specifically pointed to the psychology and neuroscience professors as being helpful to him, stating that working with them afforded him allowances he would not have access to anywhere else. When prompted, he listed off a lot to be thankful for in terms of the psychology and neuroscience professors at Brock.
“Access to professors with extensive knowledge in mental health and neurological fields, insight into common and uncommon mental illnesses, understanding of experimental or less-publicised treatment methods through testimonial. There are specifics of access to certain technologies but that’s more for research purposes,” he said. “It’s primarily the education and ability to speak with medical practitioners and professors with scientific and pre-researched background knowledge that most people don’t have.”
However, while he found solace somewhere on campus, Student A stated he hadn’t been pleased with his own professors regarding their views on mental health all around.
“Psychology professors are great, while professors of other departments are not,” he said, “professors that are not in the psychology department – primarily those in the sciences and especially biology – have been atrocious at understanding mental health or support systems, and often are at odds with Student Accessibility Services, which oversees disabilities and IEPs and typically does so quite well.”
The biggest concern to him was professors being opposed to proposals made by Student Accessibility Services with the intent of helping students out. “[It’s] mostly just professors that fought against medical documentation or disability accommodations. I understand that they’re busy people but they have to understand that some people have accommodations in place for a reason.”
While the stories Student A and Student B shared with us are immensely personal and unique to themselves, they each made sure to state that when speaking to other students about problems with Brock’s mental health support, they would be met with similar experiences.
Overall, the students interviewed were in agreement that Brock’s mental health support system is flawed, although they were capable of pointing to some of the positives within the Brock community. Even with prior negative experiences in the back of their minds, they managed to find spaces on campus where their struggles were met with help and support.
Student A and Student B also found common ground in believing there were possibilities for change. Growing mental health issues should mean improving campus support systems. The positives of the Brock system already in place serve as a starting point.
Based on their individual experiences, Student A and Student B both suggested ways in which Brock could potentially refine their mental health services to better suit students’ needs.
“Perhaps they could be more inclusive to people with a higher education and give people more intellectual credit,” Student A suggested.
Student B was definite in her answer, finding it to be a particularly pressing concern. “I think that this department would benefit from some training in race related trauma to better cater to a student of colour.”
The continued acknowledgement and acceptance of the mental health crisis means significant improvement in mental health support on campuses should be on the way. While it may take time to implement changes, there is reassurance in the fact that there are potential support systems to be found throughout the Brock community that may be suited to your needs. For any students who may need to seek support with mental struggles, be sure that there is assistance and care out there.