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Healthy mind, healthy living

Hillary Murray walked out of her Children’s Mental Health class at Holland College.

Before having lunch, she headed to the journalism room to give an interview to one of the students on the topic of mental health, which she learns a lot about in her Child and Youth Care Worker program.

“We are very aware of how much our mental health is important, but it’s hard to be able to take care of yourself while you’re working a job and school and wanna see your friends and everything.”

In some of her courses, they take five minutes before every class to talk about their mental health.

“They want us to be able to take care of ourselves, but they are also like ‘be able to know your resources all around you’ cause when you’re getting your job you’re gonna need it’.”

She’s determined to make use of the resources she has learned about and take care of her mental health this year.

That decision will probably pay off, according to renowned P.E.I. psychologist Ken Pierce.

“I find that students often have low self-esteem and low self-worth,” he said about post-secondary students.

As kids, people believe they can do and learn anything. But as they grow up, they acquire ‘distorted perceptions’ of themselves, said Pierce.

Pierce has worked at both Holland College and UPEI, and currently counsels two university students at The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc.

“I want them (students) to know that they’re capable."

All post-secondary institutions should offer mental health support to help students cope and relearn how to love and believe in themselves, said Pierce.

Holland College currently offers counselling and mental health services, with counsellors at all campuses and centres across P.E.I. who offer as many in-person sessions as students may need.

“All of our counsellors are qualified, trained, with master’s degrees in counselling psychology and they’re counselling therapists registered with the province,” said Murray MacInnis, Holland College’s Director of Student Wellbeing, Accessibility and Support.

Murray MacInnis in his office at Holland College
Murray MacInnis, Director of Student Wellbeing, Accessibility and Support, wants students to know services are available to help. Photo by Ezra Santana.

MacInnis’ department works with the Health Clinic to provide medication and diagnoses when needed and can also request additional help and support to other agencies within the community, including providing references to private services in case students require specialized treatment.

“There are times where students are hit with some financial stress and we have certain mechanisms we can use to kind of temporarily alleviate a little bit."

Adding to the work MacInnis and his department do, Holland College’s Student Union offers the Student Wellness Program, with 24/7 mental health care and support through telephone and online.

Students are often experiencing their first time away from home, family and friends during post-secondary. These challenging times can bring stress that is not easy to overcome without a support network and can eventually affect a student’s health and wellbeing.

“Without their mental health being in a good place, obviously their academics can suffer, attendance can suffer, and then getting out to a workplace environment - either through a school placement or working outside of school - it can be additionally stressful for them. So mental health is a key piece of that whole puzzle."

The biggest challenges MacInnis faces in his work is getting students to ask for help in the first place.

“Maybe they haven’t asked for help before, maybe they come from a culture where they haven’t really experienced that before or other things that could prevent them from accessing it (mental health resources)."

MacInnis’ department is focused on getting the word out there about the services and resources available.

“Once we can get them in the door for one or two sessions, then we’re better able to kind of work with them and have them as an active participant in reaching their goals."

Another challenge is students’ schedules, which makes it difficult for them to attend sessions.

“Here at the college it’s like a job, you know? They’re working basically 8:30 to 4:30 every day and they have classes, and so it’s really hard to find time for them to sometimes get out for their appointments. So we try to be flexible, we try to kinda offer lunchtime sessions and offer some resources that can maybe support them outside of those hours too, but we realize there’s a lot of demands on students too,” he said.

Holland College’s mental health resources are well utilized, said MacInnis.

“That tells me that the need is there and that the students are by and large looking for that support. So it seems to be certainly working. We are seeing that the needs are growing if anything, so we are looking to always expand on that."

He wants students to know that the college is here to help and that they can come if they’re in need of support of any kind.

“Healthy minds leads to healthy living."

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My name is Ezra (they/them) and I’m an aspiring storyteller who is half-way through a Journalism and Communications program at Holland College, P.E.I. 

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