With a combination of academics, new relationships, and the crushing expectations we place on ourselves, one truth stands: it is incredibly difficult to handle these feelings alone. Yes, for a lack of better words, the struggle is real. Stress is inevitable and will demand to be felt, but it’s how we learn to cope that will get us through. You’ll notice throughout this post that I’ll use the words us and we, and you can call me clichéd, but I use these words because we are all struggling with something. The sooner we realize that we are not alone, the sooner we can address our adversities and help one another.
Often we get so lost in who we think we’re supposed to be that we never get a chance to be honest with ourselves. As someone who is continuously trying to live up to her own expectations, I can attest to the fact that it’s sometimes hard to even assess whether we need help, let alone ask for it and risk feeling incapable. The idea that seeking help is somehow indicative of failure is a common misconception; I know now that the truth is everyone needs help. I hope to emphasize that it can and will feel like we’re going through a battlefield at times. However, if soldiers aren’t expected to brave the battlefield without armour and comrades, then isn’t it absurd that students feel like they need to fight unarmed and alone?
There are a wide range of people and resources waiting to help us at our respective universities. Here are a few ways in which I found my school, Queen’s University, attempts to help:
Queen’s realizes that addressing student health should not come as an afterthought, but should rather be an ongoing process. Although not the only thing on our minds, our studies can act as a significant pressure. For this reason, Queen’s offers a ton of support to help prevent or ease academic stress. For one, there is the Queen’s Learning Commons, a physical and online space that includes workshops, consultations, and programs such as the Writing Centre and Learning Strategies. These are in place to ensure that students never feel trapped by their studies. If they are overwhelmed with their workload, are unsure on how to approach their assignments, or need new studying techniques, these programs are always available to guide them.
Moreover, it can often be intimidating to face a professor, administrator, or TA, or to be told that there are no solutions to your problem. In order to combat these feelings, our Alma Mater Society instituted The Academic Grievance Centre (AGC), a support system run entirely by students. The volunteers at the AGC are knowledgeable about academic policies and will support their peers if they need to dispute a grade, miss an exam due to extenuating circumstances, or face problems that hindered their usual academic performance.
Queen’s also recognizes that part of staying healthy and well is feeling safe. A few unique services to address this issue on our campus are, the Campus Observation Room (COR), Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC) and Walkhome. All three of these services are completely student-run and confidential in order to ensure comfort and safety. The COR is a place where students can go if they’ve consumed too much alcohol and don’t feel comfortable staying by themselves, or if their peers do not feel well equipped to take care of them. The SHRC is a centre on campus where students are able to access unbiased sexual health information and sex products. The employees are non-judgemental and can act as a support group if needed. Finally, Walkhome is a service through which students are escorted to their destination by a team of one male and one female student, so no one ever has to feel unsafe travelling within the Queen’s neighbourhood.
Health and Counselling
For those of us facing bouts of stress and even more complicated mental and physical problems, regardless of the issue, talking to someone impartial can help alleviate distress and often provide new perspectives. The Health and Counselling Disability Services at Queen’s provides counselling for personal difficulties, crises, and distressing situations. It also partners closely with the Kingston community to assist students who want long-term counselling support.
In addition, as you may have noticed by now, Queen’s places value in students being there for students. Needless to say, alongside HCDS, the Peer Support Centre is also present on campus. It is a group of student volunteers who provide welcoming, confidential, and empathetic support to their peers. Students are encouraged to come and speak with volunteers about anything on their minds, and can expect to be listened to without any judgement.
Last but not least, there are many initiatives on campus that help remove barriers and erase stigmas surrounding mental health. An example of this is the “Elephant in the Room” campaign. This campaign encouraged students to write down something that they were struggling with and take a picture with it. By adding real faces to internal struggles, this campaign shed light on the fact that anyone passing by could be dealing with something. I believe that this not only made us more appreciative and conscious of each other, but also reminded us that we are not alone in what we are feeling. This campaign was successful in the most important step of removing stigmas, and that was making room for conversation.
I’d like to end off by saying that I have never bounced between being so excited and so terrified as much as I have in the past two years, and rightfully so in my opinion. But what a better time to be excited and terrified than at university, where a vast network exists solely to ensure that we are happy, healthy, and successful? I hope you’ll join me in strapping on your combat boots and getting all of the resources you need. It’s chaos out there, but at least this time we’ll be armed.