A balancing act:
The student life
By Tara Fortune
Eleanor Page, 20, student
Careers, deadlines, social-life; all of these need to be taken into consideration when you are studying at a post-secondary institution. Managing time can be hard and stressful when there are so many things to fit into your schedule.
1 in 4 people attending post-secondary school have a mental illness according to the Yellow Umbrella Project, a campaign that brings awareness to post-secondary institutions. Svetlana Lilova, a counsellor at the Centennial College Story Arts Centre, said that mental illness can create problems for students.
“In addition to dealing with everyday life activities and functioning and school demands, the person will have an added issue to deal with. Whatever it is it takes energy and time, so it’s like an added course, depending on the issue and depending on the person,” Lilova said.
Eleanor Page, a 20-year-old student studying psychology at Ryerson University, has had a mental illness since the age of 13. Page was first diagnosed with panic disorder and as she entered university she was diagnosed with depression. She said that so far depression has been her biggest obstacle in university.
“Depression has definitely affected my performance in school, and it has done so in many ways. For one thing, when I was at my worst, I was miserable, I had no energy, no motivation, no joy or interest in anything, not even in hobbies or socializing let alone what I was studying in school. It was incredibly hard to get out of bed in the morning; I had no desire to even be alive," Page said.
"I dealt with how bad I was feeling by drinking quite heavily and picking up other self-destructive behaviours. At the time they relieved some of the pain, but never actually helped me get better and if anything, slowed my progress, and prevented me even further to focus on what I had to do for school. Depression often affects the ability to concentrate, and that definitely happened with me. I could not focus on anything, even if I at the time had the motivation to get something done. Overall, what I was going through completely overwhelmed me as it does for many people who suffer from depression, which ultimately led me to put my studies on the back burner,” Page said.
Page handles stress by compartmentalizing tasks and organizing her time.
“It took me a long time to figure this out, that’s for sure. At first I drank and tried to avoid whatever stressors I could – that didn’t work well of course. For one thing, once I started taking care of myself and making sure I ate well, did not engage in as much self-destruction, and became just more compassionate towards myself I noticed my stress levels related to school actually dropped. In order to have a healthy mind you must also listen to your body and give it what it needs,” Page said.
According to Lilova, Centennial College has various programs to help stress management such as: meditation drop-ins, yoga, faculty outreach, mental health week (in December) and emotional intelligence workshops. Lilova said that if a student is struggling with mental illness then it is a good idea to disclose to their professor but they do not need to specify the disability just the accommodations they need.
“We provide training for faculty on how to respond to students in distress, and how to refer them. There is suicide prevention, safe talk, responding to problematic behaviour in the classroom, and just various other trainings,” Lilova said.
“In order to have a healthy mind you must also listen to your body and give it what it needs."
Artwork by Carolyn de Lang
Samantha Martino, a 20-year-old student studying creative industries at Ryerson University, was diagnosed with depression two years ago. She said that mental illness impacts her studies greatly because it is hard for her to get motivated. When talking about graduation and transitioning into the workplace, Martino said she is slightly stressed about it.
“I’m stressed out a little about graduating from school for sure but I try not to compare my situation to that of my peers. It’ll work out for me too but my process is just a little different due to my illness, and that’s okay,” Martino said.
Martino handles her stress through spending time with her dog. Dogs can be very useful to eliminate stress and relax.
Lilova said that it’s important for students to be mindful of their stress levels. Talking about it can be very helpful as can deep breathing.
“Eating well and sleeping are really important. We don’t sleep enough during these stressful periods of the semester,” Lilova said.
Martino said that there is one really important thing for all students to remember.
“Don’t get into a mindset of putting your academics ahead of your mental health. You really don’t have time for a huge breakdown in the middle of the semester, so stay on top of stress management and the rest will follow,” Martino said.