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EP 05: Student Mental Health, Signs, Symptoms, Strategies, and Solutions

Welcome to Episode #5 of The Homework Help Show. In this episode, we shifted gears and discussed student mental health. Our Host and Top Writer Cathe Anne discussed mental health, why it’s important, common mental health challenges, signs/symptoms and more. Strategies and resources to address mental health issues like anxiety and depression were provided.

The Homework Help Show is our brand new show where we will teach, assist, and offer valuable insights on different topics related to students’ academic and personal lives. Want your questions answered? Ask your questions on social media using the hashtag #askHHG


Cath Anne: [00:00:05] My name is Cath Anne. I am weekly host of Homework Help Global’s “The Learning Studio”. (To Instagram Viewers): Hi, CoachKaur and Danielli. This week we are going to talk about mental health. The last couple of weeks we focused mainly on discussing academic content. Week three we discussed how to create a killer thesis statement and then in week four we discussed how to do academic research appropriately. (To Instagram Viewer): Yes, we meet again Coach Kaur and the Neighborly Consultant. You guys are getting to be regulars.

Cath Anne: [00:01:01] I’m just going to confirm that I live on Facebook. I believe I am. This week we wanted to do a little bit more geared towards student life so we wanted to discuss specifically student mental health and go a little bit more in-depth because the first couple of weeks we briefly touched on getting into the routine of things as a student as well as how to take care of yourself.

Cath Anne: [00:01:43] Mental health is such a major issue I wanted to go a little bit more in-depth into that topic especially since there have been a couple of articles that came out recently just before the university season started. Just before the season started I think it was around October or so, there were quite a few well three that I saw off the top of my head articles that came out. There was one in the Star, there was one in the Globe Mail, and there was one in the Guardian, I believe. Those are all Canadian publications. The articles were written around mental health and how there is this increasing dilemma with student mental health. The articles specifically focused on university students who are running into issues when they start university. These students realize that they are experiencing a mental health concern. As such the universities are having difficulty keeping up with the need for resources because there seemed to be an unprecedented number of students coming forward with some mental health concerns. In this case, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss mental health as it relates to university students.

Cath Anne: [00:03:12] As I’ve mentioned in the past my background is in social work. So it is something that I feel comfortable speaking about. Certainly, I’m not going to indicate that I know everything on this topic or that I could even provide counseling or anything in this venue. But at the same time I can provide some resources and some information around specific mental health issues. So if that sounds good to you I hope that you will continue to view because I have some good content for us this week.

Cath Anne: [00:03:52] First of all I wanted to get into some statistics. I think that when we’re talking about issues numbers can help to frame things. It is helpful to discuss how many people are actually affected by mental health concerns. Mental health indirectly affects everyone because at some point or other we are all going to come in contact with someone who has had a mental health concern or is currently experiencing something.

Cath Anne: [00:04:26] So I think it’s really important to be aware that that is an issue and because mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized especially in Canadian society. People are being more open about their experiences, which is great, but that means that we also have to be able to provide them with support in the appropriate ways if they do come forward and make note that they have a mental health concern.

Cath Anne: [00:04:57] Most likely all of us have encountered someone who has a mental health issue whether they are explicit about it or not. To give you an idea, every year one in five Canadians experiences some kind of mental health condition whether it’s an extreme mental health condition. Extreme mental health issues are less prevalent statistically. Issues like anxiety and depression are more common. Just to note, mental health can affect anyone of any age. In my experience as a social worker I worked with young people had mental health diagnoses. I also worked with youth, people in their 20s as well as older people who all had these types of diagnoses. Mental health concerns really don’t it really discriminate in terms of age. Approximately 8 percent of adults will experience some kind of major depression specifically in their adult life. That’s a pretty big proportion of our population that will go through a mental health condition at some point. So how common is it? These are a few more statistics I won’t go to in depth but anxiety disorders affect 5 percent of the household population in Canada. Important to note is that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in Canada.

Cath Anne: [00:06:43] Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about a topic like suicide but in my training and as many of you may know it’s important to discuss. Suicide is a reality and it is something that people experience. It is something that we need to discuss because if we don’t then that silences people’s experiences and they may be less likely to come forward if they’re having those kinds of thoughts and less likely to get the support they need. So it’s important to bring that out in the open. Of course it is a myth that if you talk about suicide it’s going to be more likely for someone to go forward with their thoughts. That is a complete myth. If you talk about it actually opens the door to people being able to talk about it as well. So it’s really important that that’s something that we do discuss although it might be a hard topic. I mean you may need some training around how to support someone but really when someone is having these kinds of feelings a lot of times what they need is someone to listen to them and someone to give them the support they need. What I am saying comes from research and training in the field of social work. There is a program called ASIST. It is a suicide support training program that I took. The program training indicates that speaking out about suicide or asking someone directly if they’re having suicidal thoughts can actually help them to access the support they need. So that is all I will say with that for now but just wanted to make sure that we cover the importance of discussing suicide.

Cath Anne: [00:08:48] As I mentioned mental health concerns could affect anyone. It can be a combination of biological, social, economic factors that culminate in an illness. Another important thing to note is that mental illness is an illness. It’s just like any other illness. It’s not just something that people feel in their own mind. It’s a real legitimate illness and it’s something that should be treated as an illness. Sometimes people need to go on medication. Other times they don’t and they can do counseling or learn other kinds of coping strategies like meditation. However, all of these strategies depend on the person and their experience of the illness.

Cath Anne: [00:09:49] (To Instagram Viewers): I don’t want to ramble on if anyone wants to jump in with any questions or anything. I’m open to that as well. I’m not sure this kind of is a heavy topic but I think it’s an important one to talk about in light of those articles that I read. Has anyone seen any of those articles in The Guardian or Globe and Mail? They just tell the stories of different students who have experienced mental health issues and I think it’s really powerful to share those stories especially in those larger publications so that people can be aware of those issues. I guess I’ll just jump into the next topic.

Cath Anne: [00:10:44] (To Instagram Viewer): Kaur, no I haven’t heard that depression would be the number one issue in 2020. Really? Where did you hear that? Did it give any statistics as to why that was the case?

Instagram Viewer: [00:11:01] Social Work program a few years ago. More societal pressures.

Cath Anne: [00:11:11] Oh Coach Kaur, were you in social work? Oh wow. Something in common. Amazing. .

Cath Anne: [00:12:14] To move on, I wanted to go over some of the factors in students’ lives that could contribute to a mental health concern. So specifically when I was reading through some of the research they don’t know there isn’t really much evidence yet as to what causes people to experience a mental health issue in contemporary society because like I said it’s a combination of a variety of different factors and there seems to be an increase. The literature points to the fact that there is an increase in people experiencing mental health conditions. However, there are some theories out there and I wanted to talk about those in relation to student mental health in particular.

Cath Anne: [00:13:13] So one of the factors which was cited in the literature is that when students are first beginning school for the first time as young people they’re leaving their family home for the first time and they’re transitioning to living on their own. That also means that they’re leaving their support network, they’re leaving their home that they’re used to being in, and they are faced with different pressures around trying to live on their own while trying to do a university degree as well. That transition can be really challenging to balance all at once. Keep in mind also that early adulthood is a time when people do develop mental health conditions. Onset of these conditions generally occurs in early adulthood, which is the time when people would be transitioning to university. So that’s one of the factors, which has been cited.

Cath Anne: [00:14:22] As well, substances such as alcohol and different drugs can be more prevalent in university lifestyles. It might be that it is a person’s first time experimenting with drugs or alcohol and that can lead to exacerbating factors, which creates mental health condition if someone is vulnerable to developing a mental health condition. In addition to being away from their family in a new place and then if they do engage in substances and they have an underlying vulnerability that can result definitely in a mental health crisis or condition developing. People may feel isolated. They might not know where to access mental health support. They might not have those other networks like their family, their friends and a job that they might have left back home.

Cath Anne: [00:15:25] So all of those factors can culminate to potentially trigger a mental health issue.

Instagram Viewer: [00:15:33] A lot of alcohol reliance on the part of students to distress in my law school.

Cath Anne: [00:15:40] Definitely. I would definitely agree with you there. Alcohol can be used to as a coping mechanism for a lot of people. If people are stressed they may resort to using alcohol as a means to cope with that. Then of course if they’re already stressed and anxious alcohol or drugs and mental health kind of butt heads and they don’t go together very well. That can be the challenge because a lot of times you can’t separate mental health and addictions. That isn’t to say that drinking alcohol on occasion is an addiction. Certainly if you are having a lot of stress and you’re using alcohol to cope with your stress it can become problematic.

Cath Anne: [00:16:58] One of the resounding factors that came out in the research was the fact that mental health is becoming less stigmatized. I would suggest that that is true in relation to anxiety and depression. However, I think that other kinds of mental health conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder continue to be quite misunderstood because there are a lot more complex and they result in more kind of behavioral presentations which can be challenging. In terms of anxiety and depression I think that because they are more common people tend to relate to them and understand them a little bit better. In turn that means that people are accessing more support. The problem with that and that which was cited in these articles is that universities are having difficulty responding to the need for student support around mental health so they’re needing a lot more funding and a lot more dollars to be able to put towards providing thorough mental health services. As well when you’re experiencing a mental health condition it’s not just going to go away by taking some medication and attending one counseling session. It’s generally an ongoing process it’s something that you need to work out on a daily basis and develop positive coping mechanisms. Sometimes it can be quite tumultuous when you’re figuring out how to balance your life with also experiencing a mental health condition. I think that it’s great that mental health or mental illness is becoming less stigmatized. But at the same time I think that there’s a lot more research and resources that need to be provided to be able to address the issue on a holistic level. (To Instagram Viewer): You agree. Thank you Coach Kaur.

Cath Anne: [00:19:21] I wanted to also discuss something that’s very important which is how do you tell if it’s a mental health condition or if it’s just stress. As I mentioned I think in episode one or two we all experience stress is a natural reaction for the body to have. But at the same time when stress becomes too much and you are unable to cope you’re unable to attend class on a regular basis. Or it starts to affect your daily activities that might be an indicator of a mental health condition. Now I want to make note, not everyone has a mental health condition or a diagnosable mental health problem but it’s very important to be aware of the factors which would contribute to a mental health condition. So you know if someone has left home for the first time they have a huge course load and they start drinking alcohol and then not participating in their volleyball club that they were really passionate about. There might be some red flags there that would indicate a mental health condition.

Cath Anne: [00:20:33] So as I mentioned there are two kinds of major mental health conditions which we’re seeing more and more often which are anxiety and depression. They are separate conditions however they can’t go together. So someone can experience bouts of anxiety and then bouts of depression. Sometimes a person may feel both sensations in the same day and they might be experiencing depression in the morning and then later on in the day they might experience anxiety. When those issues happen that would be considered a mood disorder. They may not be diagnosed with depression or anxiety they may have a mood disorder.

Cath Anne: [00:21:28] I wanted to delineate the difference between the two. Anxiety is a group of mental health disorders characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear. Anxiety is worry about future events and fear is a reaction to current events. These feelings may cause physical symptoms such as fast heart rate and shakiness. So it’s kind of like chronic worry but more pronounced and anxiety can cause physical reactions, as I noted. It can also cause you know racing thoughts, thinking low of yourself, low self-esteem. Things like that can all go along with experiencing anxiety. .

Cath Anne: [00:22:17] Second, I wanted to discuss two different types of depression. There’s major depression which is major depressive disorder is characterized by a fairly lengthy period of time at least two weeks during which a person feels sad or hopeless or lacks focus in life on a daily or almost daily basis. This condition is associated with many other symptoms, which can have repercussions emotionally, socially, professionally and in other significant areas of life. Both anxiety and depression can be very challenging disorders.

Cath Anne: [00:22:53] There is also seasonal depression which is experienced a lot by people in the locations where there is not a lot of natural sunlight. So people will experience it during the wintertime. I know that where I’m from here on the east coast we get a lot of gray. We don’t have a lot of sunlight during the winter months so that can cause people to feel really down in the dumps and depressed. That’s called seasonal depression or SAD. It is actually quite common.

Cath Anne: [00:23:30] SAD affects three to five percent of Canadian adults. As I noted anxiety and depression can be coexistent mental health conditions. In this sense, another factor which is important to recognize whether it’s a mental health condition or just general stress is that the condition lasts more than a week or two weeks if it is mental health related. It’s usually a period of six months or so just because in order to get a diagnosis a lot of times it will have to last that long and have a lasting impact on your day to day functioning.

Instagram Viewer: [00:24:22] All Toronto winters. Yes, I learned about SAD.

Cath Anne: [00:24:25] It’s a huge issue. I feel like more people on regular basis tell me that they experience it. And I don’t know if that’s like I said because we’re becoming more open to discussing those things or if it’s becoming more common. It’s really hard to say. I think it’s a combination of a variety of factors for sure.

Cath Anne: [00:24:58] Anxiety can kind of play out in different ways as well. You might experience nausea, trembling, fatigue, muscle tension, headache. In terms of more behavioral issues you might experience excessive worry, feelings of heightened stress, purposeful isolation. So you’re staying away from social situations because you’re having difficulty being in in social situations, difficulty sleeping. You many have insomnia because you can’t stop thinking. You don’t eat or you over eat to cope. Then of course as we discussed earlier that can also be exacerbated by the use of substances.

Cath Anne: [00:25:45] Depression has some indications as well. A person may feel sad or hopeless. They might say they might express, “Oh I’m feeling sad” or “I’m not feeling like myself right now” or “I don’t feel like hanging out with my friends”. They may say things like, “I feel guilty” or “I feel like I’m dragging everybody down” and “I feel like I’m a burden”. So those are things that might indicate that someone maybe isn’t just having a down day. Maybe they’re experiencing depression. As well people often experience physical symptoms in relation to depression. So someone might not even realize they’re experiencing depression but they might have a really bad back pain or muscle aches. They might feel like they’re sick all the time or have headaches. Those can be indications of a mental health condition. So just be aware of that because some people don’t actually experience any mental symptoms, although it is a mental disorder, it is presenting in their body. If someone has depression they might also feel like they can’t get up off the couch they just want to lay around all day. They aren’t motivated to do things that they once loved to do. Depression also makes you feel differently. It makes you feel indecisive. You don’t really care about what decision you want to make. It can affect your memory. You might start forgetting things every once in a while because you’re just not invested in the day to day functions. Someone might express that they’re feeling like they’re moving in slow motion. Or that they can’t catch up. They may feel like they’re not doing a good job. Like at work they might feel like they’re not putting their best foot forward or they might express that maybe they still are doing that but they’re having feelings of low self-esteem because depression is dragging them down.

Instagram Viewer: [00:28:19] The mind body relation is true.

Cath Anne: [00:28:19] (To Instagram Viewer): Coach Kaur, it is so true. It’s so true. I feel like we don’t give it enough credit sometimes because it’s so important to recognize that everything’s connected.

Instagram Viewer: [00:28:34] Loved this episode. Thanks a lot. Great information. Anxiety is tough for sure.

Cath Anne: [00:28:39] Thanks The Neighbourly Consultant, I appreciate it. Anxiety is tough and I feel like we all kind of experience anxiety to some extent. Some people are fortunate enough not to experience it but I feel like a level of anxiety is part of being human in some ways. Thank you for the comment. So of course I wanted to give a few kind of strategies to address mental health conditions.

Cath Anne: [00:29:12] My top recommendation or my top tip for this is really if you are experiencing one or more of any of the symptoms that I have made note of, if you’re feeling not yourself if you feeling like you can’t get off the couch, if you’re feeling like you’re not putting your best foot forward or you’re down in the dumps all the time or you’re crying excessively. If you’re if you can’t sleep on a regular basis or if you’re over eating and maybe it’s not something you notice but maybe it’s something that you maybe a friend says something to you or maybe you just don’t feel right.

Cath Anne: [00:29:58] I highly recommend getting the support that you need. All that looks like is reaching out to a friend. But if it’s more serious if you’re starting to have thoughts of suicide. If you’re really feeling impaired, if you’re feeling like you can’t go to work in the morning or you can’t go to class please, please access appropriate support. That might look like it going to your counselor on campus. All the universities specifically in Toronto have counseling services available on campus and you can go and access support and talk to a counselor. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is and I know even though we’re starting to de-stigmatize mental health it can still be really scary to access support and to walk into an office and talk to someone but if you’re having an issue with mental health and it’s really starting to get to you specifically if you’re having thoughts of ending your own life, please get some support. You don’t have to do it alone. You can reach out to a friend and say listen I’m having a really hard time can you come with me to the counseling place? If you have a good support network maybe use that because I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get support. Everyone deserves to be here. Everyone deserves to stay happy and healthy and live their lives in a happy and fruitful way.

Instagram Viewer: [00:31:58] Those that don’t have anything [mental health condition] think that people are making things up. Anxiety is looked down upon I believe.

Cath Anne: [00:32:05] (To Instagram Viewer): Yes I would agree with you there, Coach Kaur. Anxiety can be looked down upon and depression as well.

Cath Anne: [00:32:13] As I’ve been saying it is becoming a little bit less of a stigma to having mental health, but you’re right it can be scary to say that you have a mental health condition or you’re experiencing anxiety or experiencing these feelings because it makes you feel very vulnerable. If you are if you are a person with anxiety it can almost make you more anxious to have to talk about it. So I think you’re right, there are you know anxiety is still a challenging thing to explain to someone. So please accept support. As I noted just go on your university’s website and typing counseling mental health and resources should come up. Also, make sure you’re pacing yourself if you are in university and you’re taking five courses maybe consider taking a few less. I’m not advocating withdrawing from courses but if it’s going to help you take care of yourself consider how you can lighten the load. There is no use in taxing yourself when you are going through something. You may need a little bit more space to pace yourself. It’s really important to keep in mind.

Cath Anne: [00:34:01] Also I find keeping a routine can be generally productive for people that are going through a mental health condition or experiencing a mental health issue because keeping a routine helps you have predictability. If you’re someone that experiences anxiety then you won’t have to worry as much about what your day is going to look like.

Cath Anne: [00:34:33] If you’re experiencing depression having a routine helps you get up in the morning and helps you not stay in bed all day when you have something to be accountable to.

Cath Anne: [00:34:47] If you are experiencing any mental health issues try to avoid alcohol and drugs because they can only exacerbate the issue a lot of time. Although it is probably super tempting to engage in that kind of behavior it can just make things more difficult. So try to avoid indulging in alcohol and drugs.

Cath Anne: [00:35:08] If you think that you are experiencing some kind of mental health problem and then make sure you’re getting enough sleep so a lot of times when if someone is experiencing depression they might feel like they’re getting too much sleep. But that’s the body telling you what it needs. So listen to your body if you feel like you need a lot of sleep. Then get some more sleep. Give yourself that space. With anxiety if you’re not getting enough sleep at night. Just make sure that you’re taking care of yourself and kind of compensating for that.

Cath Anne: [00:35:47] I’m going to wrap it up by saying that there are lots of resources out there if you’re interested. I put some of the resources that I found on our Facebook link in the description so if you are experiencing a mental health crisis or going through something that you need support for please take a look at these resources. You can look up the Canadian Mental Health Association. They have tons and tons of information on this stuff.

Cath Anne: [00:36:21] If you want to look a little bit more in-depth about whether you think you have anxiety or depression they have kind of a breakdown of some of the symptoms and signs to watch for on that website so check that out. Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada is another good resource. Health Canada’s mental health section. That’s from the Government of Canada. Like, I said searching counseling on your university website is also a great option because a lot of times when you’re a student and you pay tuition you can access counseling services for free and otherwise they are really quite expensive unless you go through public mental health. When you’re paying for counseling out of pocket it can be anywhere from 100 to 150 dollars a session so take advantage of those resources while you’re in university especially if you’re going through something. There are also options for an option for crisis lines so if you are in an immediate crisis and you’re feeling like you just need to talk to someone, there are a lot of phone lines that you can call a lot of 1 800 numbers just to talk to someone and they can refer you to an appropriate counselor. They can also give you some counseling over the phone and some support over the phone if you just need someone to talk to you right away. And I put those in our description in the Facebook Live description.

Cath Anne: [00:38:04] Also, not to be too serious but I do think it is something that we need to be serious about. If you are having imminent thoughts of suicide or ending your own life please call 9 1 1. If you have a plan set in place make sure that you call 9 1 1 and access the support you need. We want you here and you need to get support because you deserve to still be here.

Cath Anne: [00:38:32] I hope this has been helpful. (To Instagram Viewer): Coach Kaur, I see your back thank you for coming back even though your phone died. I appreciate your support. So that is all I have for this week. And I hope that is helpful. This is a topic, as you can tell, that I’m very passionate about. Everyone deserves to be here. If sometimes it doesn’t seem like life is worth it, remember that it is and we all want to here. So please if you need support access support. Thank you so much to everyone for joining us this week. We have a number of platforms that we are on now. So if you’re interested in this content you can access it on Facebook and Facebook Live. We’re also on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram. We’re on Google Plus and YouTube. We’re on Medium. We contribute blog posts, I believe on a weekly basis, to Medium. We are also on SoundCloud and Anchor, iTunes and Google Play Music. So this session is recorded and provided on YouTube and then all of those podcasting platforms as well. Just look at up Homework Help Global The Homework Help Global Learning Studio and we will be there. If you do have any questions around any topics related to academics, student life, mental health, relationships, or personal lifestyle that we can give guidance on certainly give us a shout. You can use the hashtag #askHHG.

Cath Anne: [00:41:04] You can also contact us through any of those other mediums as well Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter might be the most accessible for folks but I encourage you if you enjoy this content to check us out on YouTube. Give us a Like and Subscribe. Also like and subscribe on the other podcasting platforms such as SoundCloud and Anchor. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us this week. As a note this is something that’s really near and dear to my heart and I appreciate the conversation and comments. As always I appreciate you being here. So thank you so much and I will see you next week. Take care.