Stress is a big deal for students. In 2016, the National College Health Assessment survey highlighted that more than 90 per cent of students felt overwhelmed between 2015 and 2016.
This is a big deal for students looking to enter university for their first time, but the Government of Alberta is doing work to improve mental health at multiple levels.
But some students are learning to find support in their peers, planning and initiatives around campus. We spoke to three students in Alberta to find out how they’re tackling their stress.
Seek out campus clinics
Taylor Ens, a student at MacEwan University, says campus clinics offer opportunities to prioritize health.
“On-campus clinics have been really important to me,” Ens says. “I have a really good relationship with my campus doctor, and she’s been great so far.
“Just having access to healthcare and a welcoming environment, everyone there wears pronoun buttons and has rainbow lanyards.”
Aside from physical health, wellness departments also offer counselling, cooking advice, workout facilities and more. Modern universities are putting a greater emphasis on healthy living.
Peer groups and healthy initiatives
Many post-secondary institutes in Alberta also offer access to peer groups and student-driven initiatives to better mental health on campus.
Finding identity on campus is important to students, and Taylor Ens says prior to studying at MacEwan, she found confidence within a peer diversity group at Mount Royal University.
“Peer diversity at Mount Royal University was a really great experience to get out of my own bubble, hear other perspectives and reevaluate my allyship, which I think made me more confident in myself and how I can interact with the world,” Ens says.
Student-led initiatives are responsible for providing a healthy energy on campus. These initiatives take many forms, but often gain their biggest support during high-pressure times.
Some organizations are even ensuring their students can cover their basic needs. The Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, for example, offers free breakfast to students Monday through Friday.
Creating balance to reduce stress
More students are taking opportunities to break up their workload. Some students are opting to take less courses during each semester but complementing their studies with summer courses or block weeks.
Vincent Vuong, a student at University of Calgary, says he feels it’s becoming more accepted for students to take longer than four years to complete. He also says students have other opportunities to reduce some of the external pressures related to education, such as taking a co-op opportunity.
“I think the main benefit [of becoming a co-op student] is that I’m not as worried financially as I would have been before, so that takes a load of worries off,” Vuong says.
Co-op opportunities enable students to develop marketable skills by receiving workplace training. Most co-op programs are offered over four, eight and 12 months and are typically paid.
Alison Murphy, an English student at Athabasca University, says it’s important to know what you can handle.
“A full course load isn’t necessary and it’s a myth that everyone is taking five classes a semester,” Murphy says. “Most people can’t handle that.”
Universities also offer an opt-out period for new classes. Students can withdraw within the first few weeks without penalty if they find the workload is too high.
Alison Murphy has clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, which can make it challenging to work at her university’s schedule. But she found success transferring her credits from Grande Prairie Regional College to finish her degree online at Athabasca University.
“If I’m having a rough mental health day, I can avoid classes and work completely,” Murphy says. “It lets me access my schooling at my convenience.”
She says depression can make it difficult to find the motivation to finish her courses, but she says she’s had success focusing on her long-term goals.
“Motivation for me right now is excellent because I can see the end and I want to teach English in Korea as soon as possible, whereas at the beginning, motivation was a bit rough with no real deadlines,” Murphy says.
She says online institutions also offer an opportunity to lessen course loads at traditional universities. Students looking to take less courses in person can take three- or six-credit courses online and transfer the credits to their home institute.