Counselling services are a vital resource available to students at Brandon University. Located on the main floor of the A.E. Mackenzie Building in the Student Services office, two counsellors are accessible to students.
One-on-one counselling is available for students for anxiety, stress, or depression, which are the top three issues with which student counsellors deal, as well as other issues like test anxiety. Counsellors may help students with issues such as “eating disorders, sexual assault, trauma, any kind of assault trauma, family of origin issues, relationship issues. Pretty much everything: loneliness, transition from small town to big city or from big city to small city,” said Counselling Services’ counsellor Sandy McMaster. There can be many events or topics that bring a student to speak to a counsellor, from a family, personal, or academic matter. There could be a topic of discussion that comes up in class that triggers an emotional response, such as residential schooling, which can direct a student towards seeing a counsellor.
Counselling can aid individuals in looking at what is happening and creating an immediate action plan. Counsellors can help stressed or overwhelmed students find strategies to manage schoolwork or life issues, by implementing stress management techniques such as breathing exercises and relaxation methods. Individuals may also learn proper ways to raise self-esteem, communicate clearly, becoming more assertive, amongst other things depending on the issues at hand. The two main recommendations that McMaster has are breathing techniques and shifting of affirmations. By changing your breathing from a shallow upper chest to a full belly breath, you will provide your body with more oxygen. Muscles will also relax and your heart rate will go down. Learning how to separate the negative stories which we tell ourselves from the reality of the situation can help raise self-esteem levels and lower situational stress levels.
It is very easy for students to become overwhelmed. If students have difficulties with things like getting out of bed in the morning, being tired all the time, socializing less, isolation, having trouble with decision making, or if students stop enjoying the things that they love, it is time to reach out for help. “If there’s a change in how you operate and it’s not feeling good – that’s a big clue and that’s when you what to reach out and come to talk to somebody,” stated McMaster. “Here at counselling services, if we aren’t the resource or we don’t have the resources, we will help you find them in the community. So [counselling is] not the end of the line, [it is] the beginning of the line.”
It is important to identify the supports that you have, whether that includes family, friends, or resources available to you in the community. Having people with whom you can communicate is imperative. However, it is also important to create a balance in your life. “If you’re spending all of your time in SUDS, it’s probably not a good thing,” said McMaster. “However, if you can find that balance where you’re having a little social [involvement] and a little more study [time] – take breaks though. Some students will say [they have] to study all the time, 24/7, and at some point fairly quickly it gets overwhelming and it’s not fun.”
“If your life is no longer enjoyable and you’re not engaged in the fun things, it has become unhealthy. Then you want to do something about it to get healthy again, because life is about joyful fun, [the happy things], good interactions,” said McMaster. “When those disappear, that’s telling you this is unsafe, it can get into an unsafe place.” By remaining isolated, with little or no connection to family, friends, or community groups, students are putting themselves at risk for such things as depression and suicide. Other things like moving away from a community can also put a student at risk. As stress levels go up, individuals lean on their addictive behaviors more which can become problematic if you were dealing with addiction or self-medicating through drugs or alcohol.
Friends and people in the community will begin to see signs of stress in an individual that is in a depressive or suicidal state. The indications vary from no longer being involved, skipping class, sleeping late, and not going out as much, to other symptoms like talking negatively, and behaviors that are riskier than normal. “When a person’s behavior changes and it’s not within their normal picture, their normal way of being, that can be an indicator that there could be suicidal thoughts,” said McMaster. Another sign to watch for is if they begin to give away their possessions.
Students in residence will have the residence assistants as a resource, as they have all been trained in safe TALK which is a training program that teaches individuals to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and connect them to suicide first aid resources. The RAs will refer the students to Counselling Services where a student will meet with a counsellor, or a counsellor will meet the student in their residence in order to ensure that the student is comfortable. If you are aware of an individual who could possibly be suicidal, there is no need to freak out. “In talking about it, it is not going to make somebody do it. If somebody’s made that decision – that decision has been made. Talking about it usually relieves some pressure because they are feeling alone, isolated and overwhelmed because they are thinking about it,” stated McMaster. It is important to get them connected with help. If they are not willing to go, a concerned friend can come speak with a counsellor to create a plan. The counsellor will arrange to connect with the student or give the friend the needed resources to the student and follow up.
Another resource provided is the monthly online magazine Student Health 101, which provides students with various health tips and information from diet and exercise to physical and mental health. It features content from Jenna Clinton, Brandon University’s Campus Correspondent.