27
October
2016
|
02:00
Europe/Amsterdam

Feeling down? You're not alone

Many resources available to help you get through tough times.

By BEV BETKOWSKI

If you’re stressed out by exams stretching from now until that fabulous Fall Reading Week in early November, or feeling lonely or anxious, there’s a full lineup of on-campus resources to help get you through the tough times—now and any time of year.

Take, for instance, a chat over a steaming cup of tea or coffee. That’s what Andrew Whittle does when he’s feeling down. The computing science student, now in his final semester, struggled with depression for a few years as he dealt with several happenings in his life, at one point dropping out of school.

Help is here

In a 2013 U of A student survey:

  • Half the students said they “felt things were hopeless” in the last year.
  • Nearly two-thirds felt very lonely.
  • More than 54 per cent felt overwhelming anxiety.

Video: Check in on your mental health

 

It took him some time to get a handle on his depression, after reaching out to family, taking counselling services available to students on campus and switching his program of study to computing science—a passion he discovered after dropping out of another program.

Today, he’s a Unitea host, getting ready to lend an ear to other students through the new program, just launched this month on campus. Through coffee dates scheduled online, Whittle and his co-hosts connect one-on-one with fellow students to share their experiences in a relaxed way. He already shares chats over tea or coffee with his friends, and finds it helpful.

“When you listen to other people’s stories, you have the opportunity to learn about yourself as well,” he said.

Extensive programming like Unitea has evolved on campus over the past few years to help students take a proactive approach to gauge their needs and then reach out for help before their mental or physical well-being starts to suffer, said Kevin Friese, assistant dean of health and wellness.

“It’s about encouraging people to talk and communicate and learn how to reach out for support when they need it. We want to give them the life skills they need.”

Struggling with depression or anxiety often means being bogged down by a certain thought pattern, over and over, said Whittle, who is also co-chair of the ACCESS Project Youth Council, which is working with the U of A to develop mental health resources through a student perspective.

He said that learning to voice his innermost thoughts with his friends over tea or coffee conversations opened up a new path of thinking.

“When you say it to somebody else, it’s easier to see what the imperfections are in what you are saying. They might have a way of phrasing it that you don’t have. Then finding a different way of thinking can move you into new thoughts,” said Whittle.

He’s now feeling better.

“I’m enjoying life a lot more; I still have depression, but I know how to live with it a lot better because I have strategies and a lot of resources.”