Students may avoid getting help because of fear of being vulnerable, says George Brown College counsellor
When campaigns aren’t focusing on erasing stigma around mental health, they’re often encouraging speaking to someone about what you’re going through. As the yearly Bell ads put it, “Let’s talk.”
But a new survey shows that students are more inclined to go it alone when experiencing mental health, addictions and general well-being issues than seek help.
The survey, conducted by Good2Talk, a free post-secondary student helpline, showed that 72 per cent of the nearly 600 students surveyed try to handle their mental health issues on their own. And of those who tried to manage on their own, nearly 75 per cent believed that they could have benefited from talking to someone.
So why don’t students ask for help? According to Robert Malowany, a counsellor at George Brown College’s (GBC) counselling services, students may not approach other people because they don’t want to be seen in a vulnerable state.
“When you ask for help, it requires vulnerability,” said Malowany. “Some people don’t want to be vulnerable. Some people don’t want to be seen as vulnerable.”
Megan Van Massenhoven, Good2Talk’s outreach manager, said that some additional barriers that students highlight include concerns about confidentiality, stigma and long wait times.
Malowany said that GBC’s counselling services try to have someone available to take care of drop-ins every day and the normal wait-time for appointments is usually one to two days. But depending on the campus, and how busy the time of year, the wait to see a counsellor could be over a week.
So what should students do when having mental health issues? Both Van Massenhoven and Malowany said that students should at least talk with someone.
“Our biggest recommendation is to seek out the available support that they have access to,” said Van Massenhoven. “It’s really that first step that can make a big difference.”
According to 2016 findings from the American College Health Association, 46 per cent of college students surveyed had felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. Sixty-five per cent said they had experienced overwhelming anxiety.
Malowany noted anxiety is the biggest problem that students at the college are facing nowadays.
“That’s something that I’ve been hearing for 15 years now and that’s the one that seems to have grown significantly,” he said.
Malowany said counselling is not just about getting from feeling negative to okay, but can be about having positive mental health.
“Sometimes it’s worth looking at how do I get above zero as well, so that’s actually mentally healthy,” he said. “Counselling isn’t only about negative experiences.”