February feature: the winter blues… and then some
February has gotten off to a great start with mild weather and lots of snow to brighten our days. One might argue that the calcium spread all over town casts a less welcome halo on our best winter boots, spoiling the hem of our pants in passing… but I’d respond that the benefits of the lovely white blanket far offset its disadvantages, particularly if your daily commute does not involve getting into a car and driving.
Nevertheless, mood disorders and mental illnesses appear to be hot topics this time of year. A particular focus in the news has been the emotional health of students on campuses across North America. While an open conversation on the subject of mental health means we’re making progress toward broader acceptance and understanding of disorders, you can imagine news don’t usually abound simply on the desire to increase positive awareness among the population.
One of the reasons behind a number of articles is the release of The Freshman Norm, an annual survey of students enrolled in the first year of a four-year college or university program in the United States, administered by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA.
In essence, the survey found that freshman students’ emotional health has reached record lows; they feel more overwhelmed, and more of them report having “hidden disabilities” such as ADHD or depression than their peers of in previous years. They are also still suffering the effects of the difficult economic situation and believe that the main benefit of their university educations will be to increase their earning potential. All that being said, they are nonetheless more involved in extra-curricular activities around their schools than their predecessors.
Considering these observations, is it really hard to see why so many students rate their emotional health as being on the low end?
What can we do to help?
You’re concerned about your student’s emotional wellbeing and you want to help them in the best possible way. Whether you live under the same roof or are miles away from one another, this can be a challenging task. Here are a few tips and links to help you assess the situation, provide support and get assistance:
Reach out: have an open talk with your student. Listen and, as much as possible, do not judge. When you think something’s wrong, ask pointed questions about their emotional state such as how they would best describe their feelings and what you can do to help them feel better. Try to convey that you accept them as they are and, while you may not fully understand what they are going through, that you care and see their distress. Stay calm and try not to offer unsolicited advice; let them know however that you are there if they need you.
Be a reliable provider of support: to help your student better handle their predicament, be it a temporary problem or a diagnosed disorder, you need to avoid focusing on finding causes or people to blame. It’s important to concentrate instead on helping your child develop the proper coping mechanism to effectively deal with their situation. Keep providing unconditional love and positive reinforcement for what they are doing well and remember that “all the hormonal and social factors facing a non-mentally ill adolescent are still present [in your child] as is the need to separate from parents”.
Invite them to seek out help or professional advice: there are many resources available for your student to get help here at McGill, on the web and in the community. Just on campus, options abound and there is sure to be one suited to your student’s need. A list of suggested resources is found below.
Get informed: the best way to offer proper support and have realistic expectations is to learn as much as you can about your student’s ailment and its treatments. Knowing the symptoms announcing a crisis, discerning supportive behavior from detrimental one and accepting the illness for what it is are all important factors to providing effective support on the road to recovery.
Get help and stay healthy: dealing with the mental illness or mood disorder of a loved one is very trying. It is therefore very important to make sure you don’t let your own life deteriorate. Allow time for yourself and for your couple. Keep up with your healthy habits and activities. Don’t neglect other family members or loved ones who may also be affected by the situation. Seek support for yourself, whether from friends, professionals or a self-help group in your community. Talk openly about your situation with people you trust.
Mental Health Service – Psychological and psychiatric offered in a secure, non-judgmental environment. Their website has a lot on information on the common conditions that affect students. Outreach programs, extensive documentation and one-on-one appointments are offered by this service. Their team of doctors is specialized in the treatment of psychiatric disorders and well equipped to help your student with individualized professional attention based on solid clinical principles.
Counselling Services – For students who experience problems with daily functioning due to psychological and emotional difficulties on a more manageable scale or who would like to assess their personal situation by seeing an Intake Counsellor. Their counsellors and psychologists emphasize awareness and prevention in an effort to deal with problems and issues before they become unmanageable. They focus on students’ strengths and capacity for change to help them build their ability to solve problems, make decisions, and cope more effectively with life’s major stressors and daily demands.
Student Health Services – Because a student’s overall physical condition and mental wellbeing are interrelated, Student Health Services is also an important resource for students. Their website covers mental health matters and provides a platform for student to ask specific questions to Dr. T anonymously.
On the web and in the community:
Moodletter – Put together by a non-profit organization, this is an information platform designed to help people living with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder – as the victim or a loved one.
AMI Québec – AMI Québec, or Action on Mental Illness, is a grassroots organization committed to helping families manage the effects of mental illness through support, education, guidance and advocacy. Their resources page is a wealth of links to other organizations and web tools.
Active Minds – Non-profit, student-run organization working to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues. They provide information and resources regarding mental health and mental illness, encourage students to seek help as soon as it is needed, and serve as liaison between students and the mental health community in North America. They have 300 campus chapters in the US, Canada and Australia.
Mind Your Mind – A Canadian non-profit mental health engagement program that works with youth, emerging adults and the professionals who serve them to develop reliable and relevant resources and communication platforms.
The Canadian Mental Health Association – A charitable organization that promotes the mental health and of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness.
Mental Health Canada – A comprehensive directory of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, counsellors and psychotherapists in Canada enabling user to search for a practitioner by professional designation, gender and location.
 So Your Teen Has Been Diagnosed with a Mood Disorder, Now What?, by Judy Shepps Battle