Jan. 25, 2023Print | PDF
Late January and February are a period when students (and everyone else) should pay attention to their mental health, says Wilfrid Laurier University’s Manager of Wellness Education Sarina Wheeler.
While “Blue Monday” may not be based on science, this time of year can be quite busy and stressful, says Wheeler, now in her 17th year working with students.
“We’ll be handing out mental health kits on Jan. 25th and 27th,” says Wheeler, noting that 350 kits will be distributed at Laurier’s Waterloo campus and another 150 at the Brantford campus. “This is the time of year when folks are spending more time alone inside due to the cold weather, getting less exercise and less sunshine, and consequently less Vitamin D. All of those issues can have a negative impact on our wellness.”
Making efforts to get outside and be physically active, connecting with friends and reaching out for counselling are some good strategies for anyone experiencing worsening mental health, says Wheeler.
“At this busy time in the term, students can get caught up in the idea that they are the only ones struggling,” she adds. “When we experience stress and anxiety, our brains may develop distorted thinking which prevents us from seeing the full picture. It’s a good time to check in on each other so folks know they are not alone, and be reminded of the wide range of services at Laurier to help students thrive physically, mentally and academically.”
The mental health kits being distributed include a winter hat, gratitude journal, self-care action book and allergy-friendly food.
Wheeler says the generation of students who experienced their first year of university during COVID-19 may have missed an important opportunity to build skills that can lead to positive mental health outcomes, but programs and initiatives at Laurier are working to change that.
Sophia Buu is a fourth-year psychology student and volunteer with Laurier’s Student Wellness Centre. Buu, who has spent her entire post-secondary career living on Laurier’s Waterloo campus, says there were very lonely times she pushed through during the height of COVID-19, which she calls her generation’s “quarter-life crisis.”
“We’re taught that we have to suck it up in our 20s,” says Buu. “University is supposed to be a time of development for all of us. Everyone has had some level of anxiety and depression in the last few years.”
Buu found ways to address her challenges, which she hopes other students can adopt to their benefit. She sought counselling and took a well-rounded approach to dealing with mental health, which she calls “ongoing character development — like going to the gym.” Part of Buu’s approach involved developing a community tied to her interests. The former professional video gamer spent free time away from academics competing with other gamers online. She also joined Laurier’s Student Wellness Centre as a volunteer.
“I wanted to contribute in some way and I wanted to work with a community-based organization that values mental health,” says Buu. “I look forward to volunteering. Everybody is happier being there – and that’s important because we’ve all had our walls up the last few years.”
Among the Student Wellness Centre’s activities, Buu enjoys the Nature Walks with Dogs program, which returns on March 7 during Thrive Week. Dozens of students, faculty and staff meet up to spend time with pooches, helping relieve stress ahead of the high-pressure exam period. Participating in the dog walk is enjoyable for Buu, who misses her 15-pound Shih Tzu-Poodle, Milo, who lives at her family’s home in Mississauga, Ont.
“There’s a lot of gratitude being expressed,” says Buu, who also works as a direct support worker at a Kitchener group home. “I’m getting back just as much as I give.”