By Sarah Wylde
Back to School and your Mental Health
It is that time of year again…back to school. With that in mind, last month was focusing on the various topics to help with going off to school. To start this month, let us talk about another important part of going back to school that not everyone remembers or focuses on. Your mental health with this change is just as important, treat it like homework that must be done.
To begin, last week I mentioned that I went to university for a semester. One main reason I ended up leaving was because of my mental health. The first thing I learned in therapy that has stuck with me is: the worst thing you can do is ignore it. This is a true statement. So, before I mention things that I have learned that can help with back to school mental health, here is my own story, where I ignored my mental health.
I applied to go for communications and journalism because I have always wanted to be a journalist. I was excited to go and live on campus for the first time. My previous two courses I took I had lived at home. I knew there would be a struggle in adjustment, plus my age difference, and having to get used to living and sharing a room with someone. When my mom and aunt helped move me in the room, before they left, I cried. I cried because it was such a small room to share with someone I did not know, I cried because it was the first time I would be this far away from my mom since my dad died. I wanted to go home. But I stayed because I needed to do this. I knew that then and I know that now. After the first few days, I was happy. I got along good with my roommate, enjoyed my classes and was joining in extracurricular activities and clubs. I kept myself so busy that I wasn’t paying attention to what my body was telling me.
Halfway through the fall semester, I found any time that I had on my own I ended up spending it crying. I was burning out but did not realize it. I kept adding things to my plate so I would always have something to focus on. After exams when I went home for the holidays, it was noticeable that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to worry my mom, so I would smile and say that “I am fine.” A week back and I got sick, I ended up with walking pneumonia and had to rest, actually rest for a week. That is when I had a breakdown. There wasn’t anything to keep me busy and ignore my mental health anymore. I was faced with it. My anxiety and depression felt like they were drowning me, and I admit, there were thoughts of “people would be better off without me.” I talked on the phone every day with my mom, so I had to tell her I was sick, but she could tell there was more. After not being able to hold it in, I broke down crying and told her. We talked for a while and a few days later I told her I wanted to come home. That is what I did, by mid-January I was moving out of the dorms leaving university and going home.
Now, I don’t regret that decision at all, it was best for me and my mental health at the time. Today I thought, if I was there, I would be going into my third year. But in all honesty, if I stayed, who knows if I would even be here. Not to be alarming, but with where my head was at, it there was a lot of darkness. I believe I am where I am supposed to be, and doing what I am doing, on a path to help end mental health stigmas.
Many students are excited about seeing friends, meeting new or seeing previous teachers, and getting new school supplies. But, for others going back to school is challenging and stressful with all the unknowns. Unknowns like: will I find my classroom? Will my friends be in the same class as me? How hard is the homework going to be? Will I like my teachers? Etc. Here are some things that can be beneficial.
You can take books out of the library to read about mental health and mindfulness. There are helpful websites and blogs on the internet, just be careful and make sure they have corrected facts. If you feel comfortable, you can talk to your doctor or school’s counsellor about it as well.
Identify coping skills
Some of you may already have some coping skills because you know going back to school can trigger emotional and mental stresses. For others, this is a new experience with a steep learning curve. It is important to have a series of questions to ask yourself to gauge where you are and how you are coping. What worked to help you feel better before? What made things worse? Can you avoid that?
work things out before reacting. If you find it helpful use paper for a list or to write out scenarios. Sometimes working it out can help you see the stressor more clearly and how to avoid it in the future.
always make time for yourself. Even if you have to write it down in your weekly schedule to make sure you relax. Go for a walk, read a good book, meditate, something that you find calming and relaxing.
I hope you enjoy this school year, please don’t forget to take care of your mental health to. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of strength.