Giving voice to students who experience mental illness
Counselling services available for JIBC students
By Glenda Kerr, JIBC Manager of Counselling Services
Meet Joe. He’s a bright, conscientious 23-year-old who recently met with me for a counselling session after having a talk about academic performance with his instructor. Joe, who describes himself as a high achiever, was confused and frustrated with his poor performance. He blamed himself: “If I just use my time better … if I just study harder … Maybe I’m just not smart enough to be in this program.”
It turned out that Joe has trouble sleeping and difficulty maintaining a physical fitness routine, he does not eat properly, and he has a history of depression. When he was in grade 11 Joe was diagnosed with depression, placed on medication, and attended counselling. The medication and counselling helped, but he stopped both because “things got better, I wasn’t depressed as much, and I don’t like taking medication.”
But when he showed up in my office, Joe was showing signs of mental illness, which he recognized himself by taking the first step of talking to a counsellor. I am sharing Joe’s story in recognition of Mental Health Week, May 7-13, and to give voice to students who experience mental illness.
The stress of student life can trigger a range of mental health issues. According to the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment student survey conducted in 2009, approximately 53 per cent of students feel overwhelmed by anxiety, 38 per cent experience significant stress, and 26 per cent have sleep difficulties. These mental health issues interfere with students’ academic performance and, if left untreated, may result in more serious mental health problems. In fact, 36 per cent of students report they feel so depressed that they find it difficult to function.
While the statistics are powerful, they don’t put a face to mental illness. The face of mental illness is not easily identifiable. Often symptoms are disguised. Students can suspect something is wrong, but can’t put their finger on it. They may rationalize symptoms as “having a bad day or bad week.”
Much of the disguise of mental illness is reinforced by societal attitudes, stereotypes, and stigma. The stigma associated with mental illness is pervasive and often prevents students from recognizing they may be experiencing depression or anxiety, disclosing their condition, and getting help. Stigma is among the greatest barriers to students seeking help for mental health problems. This is a major concern as studies suggest post secondary students are increasingly at risk for mental health issues. Stigma can also be a barrier to maintaining treatment, as seen in Joe’s experience. Furthermore, the silence around mental illness reinforces the stigma.
In my role as a counsellor at JIBC I meet many dedicated students with ambitious goals and career aspirations. Some of these students experience mental illness. JIBC is committed to advancing ways to be more accessible and responsive to student mental health. Working with faculty, staff, and students, our goal is to create a campus environment that promotes mental health awareness and positive attitudes towards student mental health; responds quickly, compassionately and effectively when a student’s mental health is of concern; and helps students engage with necessary resources and services.
If you are in crisis and need immediate help, call the BC Distress Line Network at 310.6789. It’s a free call and no area code is necessary.
If you are interested in learning more about campus mental health check out the Healthy Minds/Health Campuses website.
Last updated April 5, 2017