Let’s talk mental health! – how we can better support ourselves and others

Contributors: Kim Bennett – MSc Student & Cristina Rubino – PhD Student

When it comes to mental health, grad school is time fraught with uncertainty and evaluations but also growth and triumphs. For a lot of us there will be profound life changes outside of school that are also related to shifts in emotions and moods. Engaging with my own struggles has shifted not only how I think about mental health resources but also how I engage with my own emotions and states. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned during grad school:

Taking an emotional inventory

I thought, like many others, that the emotions I contended with weren’t justified because what I went through wasn’t ‘bad enough’ or that I was not feeling ‘bad enough’ to deserve support. This ultimately drove a pattern of pushing these emotions away. But when I learned to face them, I could begin to identify and understand my emotions, relate them to patterns in behaviour, and separate them from my reactions. From here, I could begin to understand what my unique mental health landscape was and what actions would be most helpful to take. Taking the time to understand your emotions is key to building your own mental health plan just as we might begin to plan our workouts for our physical health.

Who should access mental health resources?

Mental health resources are for everyone. One of the biggest misconceptions I had is that mental health support (for example, therapy or medication) is reserved only for crisis states, severe trauma and those who have received a clinical diagnosis. But in reality, mental health is a part of overall health so mental health services are meant to be used by every single one of us.

How can I be more effective at supporting others mental health?

Try to flip the script. The onus is often on the individual who is experiencing negative mental health. When we say, “let me know when you want to chat”, it can feel overwhelming – as in, one more thing has been added to their to-do list. Reaching out is always a great step, but when doing so try to replace phrases that put onus on the individual (e.g., “let me know if you want to chat”) to action-oriented support (e.g., “let’s plan a time this week to zoom chat”). If you have a friend who is facing a challenging time, take a moment empathize and remember how challenging it can be to carry out daily activities and then provide concrete support.

Prevention is important too!

Take a preventative approach to your mental health. Just as exercising is used as a preventive measure for our physical health, the same applies to mental health. We will all experience shifts in our moods throughout our lives (and definitely throughout our grad studies). When we start to feel big shifts in our moods it can be incredibly difficult to access help – for example, finding the right counsellor or talk therapist and booking an appointment to speak to someone – therefore, planning ahead is key so that you have the resources you need at your disposal when you are feeling a negative shift in your mental health.

Making a mental health plan

While you are in grad school there are many pathways and resources available but navigating these pathways can be overwhelming. Worries about finances, time and feeling like you ‘don’t need the support’ are often forefront for grad students. It can be time-consuming to find a good fit with a psychologist, counsellor, or group therapy. UBC does offer many programs but where does one even begin. This can feel like another barrier when you are experiencing stronger shifts in your emotions or moods. For this reason, it is helpful to make a mental health plan, no matter how ‘good’ you might be feeling.

  1. Identify where you are at. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 911 or visit an Emergency Room at your closest hospital.

  2. Start with UBC Student Health Service

    • Book a mental health appointment with UBC student health services and choose your preferred provider whether a general practitioner or nurse. They are there to refer you to a specialist if needed.

  3. You can also go directly to UBC Counselling Services

    • Book a mental health appointment with a UBC counsellor. They will work with you on a short-term basis, and refer you to someone else when your sessions are up. UBC Counselling is available for all students, including international students.

  4. Consider resources outside of UBC

    • Take the time to find the right fit. Many counsellors offer a 15-minute introductory session free of cost to help you find someone you feel you can trust. https://counsellingbc.com/ offers a comprehensive directory of mental health professionals practicing in BC and allows you to search by location and designation.

    • As a last-minute resource, the UBC Student Assistance Program by Aspiria is free for UBC students and is available 24/7 for counselling and life coaching.  They are very flexible with in-person and virtual support, and they offer support in multiple languages.

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