Introduction

Students, interrupted?

Students, interrupted?

I might have sounded a little bit too serious, with the word “interrupted” shoved so coarsely into the title of this post, but the reality is that in university, though one might be constantly surrounded by lots of people, it’s nevertheless easy to feel lonely, scared and lost. And when this happens, it can indeed feel like the end of the world is near.

In my last post, I talked briefly about how to make more long-lasting friends here at U of T — although not nearly as well as one of our commenters, Curtis, did! What I’ve realized during my few years here is that our relationships with the external world directly affect how we feel about ourselves. In that sense, you can’t foster one without the other, nor can you isolate the two and hope that whatever negativity is affecting one realm will not seep into the other. I know this sounds like common sense, but when students do end up bumping into a wall, they will often fail to consciously protect the healthier areas of their lives, and thus allow the situation to snowball into something deeply destructive. It’s exactly like a physical illness: if it’s left untreated, your whole body will ultimately be compromised. The only difference here is that we are talking about our mental health, so that the harm is intangible and the consequences often overlooked.

Unhealthy relationships, for example, can not only kill your GPA and your health, but also destroy your self-confidence. I remember going through hellfire in my second year. I lost all motivation and drive to do well in school because, after a few blunders on midterms, I was too distressed by the fact that with my crappy marks, no professional or graduate school would ever accept me. I was always sick, with long-lasting coughs, colds that came every single month, and recurring nightmares. My sleeping pattern was completely out of whack: I went to bed when the sun came up, slept a huge amount every day because I was always tired, and ended up skipping a lot of my classes. My life had spun out of control, and all colour was draining away from it. The worst of it was that for the longest time, I could not break away from it because I never saw it as “unhealthy,” nor did I pay enough attention to how much I was suffering, both physically and mentally.

I was lucky in that I was able to recognize those blaring signs of a bad relationship, when I “serendipitously” picked up a very helpful book from Indigo. But looking back, I realize how much I would have benefited from the counselling and psychological services offered by the school. Recently,  U of T’s Counselling and Learning Skills Service (CALSS) and Psychiatric Service were combined to form Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The office is located in the Koffler Student Services Centre, almost right across the hall from the Second Cup and the lower entrance to the bookstore. The hours are:

Monday to Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday: 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Generally, you’ll talk to the reception desk first, and you’ll set up an appointment for a 20-minute phone evaluation, in which a counsellor or clinician will ask you a few simple questions regarding your needs. Then they will direct you to the most appropriate program within, or outside, CAPS. Should you be referred to a program within CAPS, someone will phone you later to offer the appropriate method of counselling. There could be a bit of a wait list (three to four weeks), so make sure you book the phone evaluation as soon as you can.

I understand that there can be a stigma associated with seeking counselling, but honestly, when you are unhappy, who cares what anybody else thinks? CAPS is not synonymous with “asylum.” Rather, you can see it as a place that will help you get past some of the little bumps in life that, believe it or not, happen to everyone. Some of the areas CAPS helps students with are

  • Difficulties adjusting to university life
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and related issues
  • Relationship problems
  • Disturbances resulting from abuse and assault
  • Prolonged stress
  • Disordered eating
  • Attention and concentration difficulties
  • Phobias
  • Problems with sleep
  • Assault counselling and education services

Should CAPS not be immediately available to you (the wait list does take a long time, and while wait-listed, you cannot contact them due to their policy on confidentiality), there are plenty of other places you can go for support. This site established by York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School provides a comprehensive list of emergency resources, including a 24-hour crisis line offered by the Gerstein Centre. (Believe it or not, this actually has nothing to do with the Gerstein Library, although when I first heard about it, my mental association of distress with school libraries made perfect sense.)

I must admit that when I was in high school, I had total case of teen angst. You know, very melodramatic, wrote a stack of what was then perceived to be heart-wrenching poetry, and a few times even cried in hallways because my mark wasn’t in the 90s. But as I look back, the things that seemed so serious then are now too ridiculous to make a fuss over. In truth, tomorrow will always be a better day, as long as you treat yourself well, and allow yourself to grow as a result of your experiences.

– Lucy

3 comments on “Students, interrupted?

  1. Hey Lucy,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, and what you had to go through second year…I’ve had my own taste of the ups and downs of university to put it mildly, and know just how important any kind of counselling can be in getting onto the right course. I’m a U of T student as well currently–in my second year–and was appalled at just how slowly the CAPS services were to contact me after I went through the signup and phone interview process. Granted I know there are MANY students who need a counsellor, and so the waiting lists must be pretty clogged up. The thing that scared me though was that these students are the ones that need help, and some of them might be in such a bad place that they might not still be there once CAPS or any other counselling service was able to call them back. I was able to find someone outside the university quickly, but I think it would have helped so much (in retrospect) knowing just how many organizations were available to offer counselling–no one had even told me about the Gerstein Centre! Do you know of many other organizations like the Gerstein centre that are available to students if the wait time for CAPS or other services can’t be shortened?

    Thank you so much, and sincerely the best of luck throughout the rest of your uni career~

  2. Hi Diana,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding this topic! I do agree that CAPS does take a while to get students past the waiting list, but once it happens, which took me about 6 weeks, then everything is much easier from thereon.
    (you might be interested in this Toronto Star article: http://www.thestar.com/article/689929)

    Regarding alternative resources:

    1.The first that comes to mind are distress centres:

    Distress Centre line, which is available 24 hours:
    416-408-HELP (4357)

    Distress Centre Ontario
    (416) 537-7373

    Mental Health Crisis Line
    1-888-893-8333

    Even though the person one is talking to in the above cases might not be M.Ed. in counselling or M.D.’s (most distress centres take on volunteers to answer calls), the key is to have someone engage in active empathetic listening with the person in crisis, and often this alone does help to alleviate the situation immensely.

    2. For a different type of crisis:
    Toronto Rape Crisis Centre
    (416) 597-1171

    3. Alternatively, I believe that to further discuss mental health and related issues with a qualified healthcare professional such as a psychiatrist, you must be referred by your family doctor (this might need to be double-checked, as I haven’t had experiences with it myself)

    That’s all I can think of right now. I think people who have been out of school for some time, often forget or undermine how difficult life can be for post-secondary students. Because of this, it’s especially important for students to actively seek help when necessary, even if it’s just that we may feel a bit sad or haven’t slept so well lately. Thank you for bringing up this problem regarding CAPS, Diana. I hope you find my response helpful! Take care and my best wishes to you,

    Lucy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*