I am a Student

Did you know? According to a national survey of colleges and universities, one-fifth of Canadian post-secondary students are depressed, anxious, or battling other mental health issues. Compared to three years ago, the survey also found that an increased number of students are reporting being in distress.

Health Canada has affirmed that a majority of mental health issues occurs during adolescence and young adulthood, specifically around the time that many students begin post-secondary education. Moving to college or university can be a stressful time in itself, and if you also experience mental health issues or illness, it can be even harder. Not only can mental health concerns negatively impact one’s well-being, but it can also significantly hinder one’s education. Depression was found to be a significant predictor of a lower GPA and a higher probability of dropping out of school. However, there are steps you can take to create a strong support system for yourself.

The Facts

A major survey of 25,164 Ontario university students by the American College Health Association showed that between 2013 and 2016, there was a 50% increase in anxiety, a 47% increase in depression and an 86% increase in substance abuse. Suicide attempts also rose 47% during that period.

A Star/Ryerson survey of 15 Canadian universities and colleges found all but one have increased their mental health budgets over the past five years. The average increase has been 35%.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Mental Health: In Our Own Words

Common Signs of Mental Health Issues or Illness

There are ten common warning signs that someone is suffering from a mental health problem. If you or someone you know experiences one or more of these signs, seek help from a trusted family member, friend, mentor, or medical professional.

  1. Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  2. Severe, out-of-control risk-taking behaviours
  3. Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
  4. Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight
  5. Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real
  6. Repeatedly and excessively using drugs or alcohol
  7. Drastic changes in mood, behaviour, personality or sleeping habits
  8. Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still
  9. Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  10. Trying to harm oneself or planning to do so.

If you or someone you know experiences one or more of these signs, you should talk with trusted family, peers or mentors and seek assistance.

It can be difficult to know whether what you are experiencing is an early sign of an emerging mental health condition or part of adjusting to college.

You don’t have to know the answer to that question. Listen to your mind and body. If you are not feeling right and are having trouble shaking that feeling, then talk with someone who can help you sort things out and help you decide what kind of care you need.

Look further down this page at the ‘Support Service Links at Your School’ section as a place to start the conversation.

You are not alone: Student stories of mental health

Some situations can trigger and affect your mental health. To some, they may seem like a normal occurrence that happens to everyone. To others, the mental strain associated with the event can be overwhelming. Be aware of these stressors and think about how they have or could affect your mental health.

  • Relationship breakups
  • Academic pressures
  • Poor grades
  • Feeling marginalized, misunderstood or like you don’t fit in
  • Concern or worry about your family members at home
  • Loss of day-to-day family or community support
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Financial stress
  • Social status pressures
  • Feeling alone or homesick
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Grief
  • Gender and sexuality questioning
  • Friendship challenges
  • Sports team losses
  • Unmet expectations

Relationship Breakups

Break Up and College Depression: Crystal’s Mental Health Story

Can a webpage really tell me how to deal with my romantic relationships? The truth is that we can only guide you and give you information that supports making the best decision(s) you need to make. So before you dismiss what we have to say, take a healthy look at your current or past relationships and ask yourself if it was healthy or not. Use the following table to help guide your thinking:

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Romantic Relationships 1

What makes a healthy relationship? What makes an unhealthy relationship?
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Communication
  • Acceptance
  • Equal decision-making
  • Support
  • Shared goals, beliefs and values
  • Pressure to change
  • Distrust
  • Fear
  • Lack of support
  • Restrictions
  • Criticisms
  • Anger and jealousy

If you think you have an unhealthy relationship and need to end it, do a little Internet search on how best to break up with someone. You also can go to your school’s student services and ask for advice on how to break up with someone if you don’t know how to do it and you think the situation is affecting your schoolwork.

Fourteen Ways to Break Up Better

As a society, we place a great emphasis on finding “the one” – the perfect soul mate who we will spend the rest of our lives with. But what happens when a relationship ends? We all know the pain and sorrow that comes with the end of a relationship. Most individuals are not prepared for it. Sometimes it’s the first breakup, other times we just don’t know how to cope. Fortunately, we can develop skills to help us get back to feeling the way we want to feel. As described in a PsychCentral article, “our thinking will dictate how we feel about, and ultimately cope with, a breakup, as well as any other occurrences in our lives. Irrational thoughts and beliefs that cause us to feel hopeless or depressed about our breakup can be replaced with more rational ones. This will make the ending of a relationship feel much more bearable.”

The 7 Stages of a Breakup and 7 Ways University Students Can Cope

How do we identify irrational thoughts, and how do we replace them with rational ones? Good question! Take a look at the three examples below and then click on the link for more.

Irrational Thought: Rational Thought:
“I can’t live without this person. I need them in my life!” “I can live without this person. There are definitely things I need in order to live, like air, food and water. I do not need this person so I can stay alive. Sure, I miss them, but my life will not end if they are not in it. I do not need them.”
“My life has no meaning without my partner.” “My relationship was merely one meaningful aspect of my life. There are many ways for my life to have meaning, and my relationship is not the only way to achieve that meaning. My work, my family, my friends and my (fill in the blank) all bring meaning to my life.”
“I am no longer me without my partner.” “I have always been myself. Nothing can change that I am me, just like I cannot change who others are. It is possible that I may have simply lost sight of some of my interests outside of my relationship, but these can be regained.”
Check out more irrational thoughts here.

Prepare for how you want to handle the breakup and make sure you take steps to be mentally healthy before, during, and after the event.


Missing Home? Here’s How to Stop Feeling Homesick FOR REAL

Homesickness is a perceived loss of the close support and structure that family often provides. Students feel vulnerable being on their own and long for easier times when they had less responsibility, more structure, and more perceived support. Homesickness is not a defined illness and, as such, there are no identifiable symptoms.

That said, you might focus on students who are feeling sad, depressed, isolated or lonely. Not every student feels capable of meeting new people and making new friends, and homesick students might struggle with this even more. Even students who are making friends can feel isolated if their new friendships are perceived as leaving some needs unmet or some void in their lives that they feel only family can fulfill. Other symptoms might include crying, skipping school, or feeling hurt or anger 2.

Financial Stress

According to Statistics Canada, about half of Canadian post-secondary students owe money for government or non-government loans when they graduate. Eek! The average college student owes $14,900, while the average university student owes over $26,000 for a bachelor’s or master’s. If you’re in this situation, are you ready to pay it back? Do you have a plan, or are you going to ignore the thought of it until after you graduate (and then panic)?

The mental health impact of rising debt: ‘A lot of students suffer silently’

The challenge of course work, the cost of education and the need to borrow money for college and to repay these loans are all factors that add up quickly to cause economic stress.

Budgeting your expenses is a sound first step toward getting a grasp on your financial situation. It will allow you to keep track of the money moving in and out of your wallet. If you’re unsatisfied with your spending habits, make small changes where you can. Any number of factors can lead to economic stress. Maybe you or a parent lost a job, or you feel like you don’t have as much money as your friends. This can be especially true on a college campus, where it’s easy to assume that all students’ families are wealthy.

Check out this quick test to see what your level of financial understanding is (it is half way down the webpage). While you’re at it, why not take a moment to look at these other links, which can help you create a budget.

Drug and Alcohol Use

A large-scale survey of 43,780 students from 41 Canadian campuses confirmed the suspected high level of binge drinking students are doing.3 You might be wondering why anyone would waste money on such a study as it feels like this should be common knowledge. But, times are changing and so are attitudes toward binge drinking. We are more aware of the risks and their impact on our wellbeing than when our parents were young. However, there is still a lot of binge drinking happening. According to the study:

Alcohol is considered the most popular and dangerous drug on campus. Although drugs can cause more damage in a shorter period of time, alcohol has the potential to cause just as much damage. To many, drinking is synonymous with the school experience; it’s at house and bush parties, sporting events, and basically anywhere else. Since the use of alcohol during school is widespread and often socially acceptable, many students end up drinking more alcohol more frequently than their peers who aren’t in college.

Take a moment and ask yourself how often and how much you drink. Once you start working professionally, could you keep drinking the same amount and as often while still excelling at your job or raising a family?

Let’s also remember that it’s not just alcohol. Post-secondary students make up one of the largest groups of drug abusers nationwide. Yep, taking a moment to gauge your drug and alcohol use is worthwhile, especially since Canada has recently legalized recreational cannabis use. Educate yourself on drugs and alcohol use, and see how you can improve your lifestyle.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or higher. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about two hours. Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.

Social Media

It’s probably strange for many of you to imagine what it was like for young adults 15-20 years ago when social media wasn’t significant – although, at the time, the development of pagers and cell phones significantly changed communication. The previous generation was the transition generation. They were the first to move to computer use in school, to start having electronics and access to the Internet. As a result, the previous generation is not the best at understanding the effects of social media. What is understood is that most things in moderation are good, while extreme or excess is likely not good. Research is starting to talk about the effects of social media on mental health. When it comes to your mental health, it is vital to understand how social media affects you. Keep an eye on it over time and critically reflect on your social media behaviours (good and bad).

How to Cope During School

Attending college or university is an important achievement and an exciting time in life. You will gain greater independence, meet new people, and have memorable experiences. It is a time of significant transition, which can be both positive and challenging. So, to get the best start, read through the resources of our Mental Health Toolkit!

Connecting with others, including involvement with campus and community activities, can help you protect and maintain your mental health. Explore opportunities through your campus student activities center and get involved in one or more of the following activities:

Support Service Links at Your School

Dealing with mental health problems requires solutions that are individualized, constant and personal. These solutions require a relationship between two people and access to more resources. Some students avoid on-campus mental health services because they don’t feel they have poor mental health, or they want to avoid stigmatization.

Here are things to know before or soon after you arrive on campus. How many of these to do you know about? How many of these to do you know about?

Everyone should know how to access mental health care on campus, even if they don’t need the services. To help you get the answers to the questions above or to find someone to speak with, find your school below and contact someone today.

Leave of Absence

Life can be overwhelming. Going to school and caring for yourself might feel like it’s too much to handle. If you are thinking of taking a break from school, let’s check-in for a moment. It’s important to know your options so you can become mentally healthy again.

5 Signs It Might Be Time to Take a Mental Health Leave From College

6 Warning Signs You Need to Take a Break from College

What Is a Leave of Absence?

A leave of absence is a period when a student is not enrolled in classes but intends to return to school in the future. You might not know if you are definitely returning and that’s okay, but don’t close the door on returning unless you are 100% sure. Taking a leave of absence allows you to return to school without going through the admission process again.

Academic programs understand that a student’s life can be complicated, and they have developed policies and procedures that allow students a chance to take a break from school. Students might want a leave of absence for many reasons, such as family emergencies and medical or mental health conditions. Leaves can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

For leaves related to mental health, schools have different policies and procedures depending on the circumstances. Your school might call the leave something different: Medical Leaves of Absence, Emergency Leaves or, in some cases, Involuntary Leaves of Absence.4

You will want to consider how long you plan to be away and be realistic. Consult a school counsellor, family, and friends. Academic programs do have limitations on the length of time away so you will want to find out what the maximum amount of time can be.

Leave of Absence From College, Explanation and Benefits

Sometimes, I Wish I Had Taken a Year Off

What Should I Consider Before Making a Decision?

Getting started…
1. Reach out to family and friends for help. 2. Reach out to your academic program. 3. Discuss and prioritize your options. 4. Make and formalize a plan. It’s okay if your plan needs to change across time. 5. Focus on recovery. Your mental health comes first.

Mental Health America has some good points to consult. You may consider a leave of absence if:

Remember, it is not always necessary to leave even if you feel like it. Academic programs have many programs to help students; you just need to ask for help and see what they can offer you. There are career counsellors, doctors and mental health specialists on campus at all times for a reason.

Here are some articles to help you think through your leave of absence and why you should try to stay on campus if possible: