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Whether it’s winter blues or lockdown lament, the upcoming Bell Let's Talk Day shines a light on the importance of mental health. It’s a time to promote mental health awareness and acceptance and some of the valuable resources that are available to help.

We reached out to Craig Cunningham, Counsellor and Mental Health Team Lead for Western University Health Services, for advice on spotting mental health issues and providing support. In the Q&A below, he discusses common mental health issues with students, what to look for and how to help, and ways we can together address the stigma around mental illness. He also shares some helpful resources and tips for staying mentally healthy.

Bell Let's Talk Day is Thursday, January 28

Bell Let's Talk Day is a 24-hour campaign where Bell donates five cents to mental health initiatives for every applicable text, call, tweet or TikTok video using #BellLetsTalk; view of the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat; and use of the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame and Snapchat filter.

Q&A with Craig Cunningham, Counsellor and Mental Health Team Lead, Western University Health Services

What are some of the most common mental health issues that students face?

Struggles commonly experienced by post-secondary students include feeling overwhelmed, helpless, or hopeless. These struggles can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

How has the pandemic added to these issues?

The pandemic and the social isolation and distancing that comes with it has been especially challenging for students. Students are in a developmental stage associated with a strong need to connect with others. This need to be together with their peers tends to make coping with the current public health restrictions tougher for university students.

What are signs that students should look out for in themselves or friends who might be struggling with declining mental health?

Some common warning signs include such things as feeling very sad or withdrawn; out-of-control risk-taking behaviours; sudden, overwhelming fear for no reason; not eating, throwing up; use of drugs or alcohol to cope; significant changes in mood, behaviour, or sleeping habits; extreme difficulty concentrating or being still; intense worries; and thinking about, or engaging in self-harm. (Content adapted from Mental Health Toolkit)

How can students help support friends who might be struggling with their mental health?

If you are concerned about a friend’s mental health, reach out to a mental health professional. You can book an appointment with a counsellor to talk about your concerns and brainstorm ways to help. When it comes to mental health, now more than ever, our actions can make a big difference.

“When it comes to mental health, now more than ever, our actions can make a big difference.”

—Craig Cunningham, Counsellor and Mental Health Team Lead for Western University Health Services

Five tips to stay mentally healthy

  • 1. Be self-compassionate

    Remember, you’re doing the best you can;

  • 2. Minimize watching, reading, or listening to social media or news

    Instead, follow trusted sources like the Middlesex-London Health Unit or the Government of Canada;

  • 3. Send a text message to a friend who you haven't talked to in a while

    Working together can help us connect and look out for one another;

  • 4. Try some deep breathing exercises

    It can help you relax by lowering the harmful effects of stress on your body; and,

  • 5. Focus as much as you can on what you have control of

    Don’t spend time focusing on what you don’t have control of.

Take Action

Reach out – Let the person know you are concerned, by asking questions.

  • What’s going on?
  • Hey, we haven’t talked in a while; how are you?
  • Are you OK; you don’t seem like yourself lately?

Show you care – Again, asking questions will show you care about a person’s well-being and increases the likelihood they will seek help when they need it.

  • What do you need?
  • How can I support you?

Listen – Be compassionate and not distracted and let the other person do the talking.

Encourage people to access support – Campus resources are available at health@uwo.ca or sscm@uwo.ca.

Talk about it: Addressing the stigma around mental illness

One of the biggest hurdles for anyone suffering from mental illness is overcoming the stigma associated with having a problem and asking for help. It is the number one reason why two-thirds of those living with a mental illness do not seek help. Helping to end the stigma around mental illness will encourage people to seek the help they need and create positive change. One way you can support destigmatizing mental health is by helping people understand that mental health is an essential part of well-being – just like a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise. Talk about it. Mental illness touches us all in some way directly or through a friend, family member, or colleague. Most people with mental health issues can and do recover, just by talking about it. (Content adapted from Bell Let's Talk)

Mental health care resources for students

Mental health care services at Western University are available to all students who need support. The Mental Health Team’s focus is to help you thrive as a student and in your personal life.

  • Western’s Mental Health Team provides a safe space with professionally trained mental health counsellors who offer brief, change-oriented counselling for students struggling with concerns such as anxiety, depression, academic or personal stress, relationship, sexual orientation, problems, race-related stress, sexual violence, and adjustment to university;
  • Additional mental health services are provided by psychiatry and general practitioner psychotherapists working collaboratively with the mental health team;
  • There are counsellors available who specialize in issues impacting those who have experienced sexual violence, those who identify as LGBTTIQQ2SA+, Black, Indigenous, and Students of Colour, and those who are international students; and,
  • Western’s Mental Health Services also offer a range of virtual group supports and workshops. For more information and for self-help resources, visit Western Health & Wellness.

Western’s Mental Health Services

Hours of Operation

Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m. -7 p.m.

Friday: 9 a.m. -5 p.m.

Book an appointment with a mental health counsellor: 519-661-3030

Appointments are available virtually or by phone. There are crisis same-day appointments available.