Back-to-school is often a very exciting time for students – a time when they can see their friends again, show off their new wardrobe, and take the new classes that they have been looking forward to since the summer. But school can also be a time when a young person’s depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder flares up again due to stressful classes, difficult tests and assignments, and slipping grades. In many ways, if these challenges are not dealt with head on, students can quickly find themselves in a mental state of crisis. This is the reason why it is so very important for students and their parents to be aware of how they can manage and balance the expectations that come with school, as well as any mental health and emotional health concerns.
Whether young people are in elementary school, high school, college, or university, the back to school season can represent both the best and the worst of times for young people. This time of the year can shape and set the stage for great learning opportunities and social connections, or at its worst, contribute to mental health issues. For those students who are moving away from home, back to school season can also exacerbate homesickness, the pressure to excel, the stress of multiple assignments and feeling ill-equipped to navigate higher levels of education without the assistance, or at least the presence, of a parent. All of which can potentially have a devastating effect on a young person’s state of mind.
According to a recent study by Stephen Lewis, a psychology professor at the University of Guelph, today’s youth are under more pressure than ever before. Lewis argues that students often feel isolated if they cannot deal with the fact that struggle is part of their student experience. Like any human being, Lewis reminds us that sadness and anxiety are difficult emotions that we cannot avoid, but for young people are often very difficult to navigate. As a result, one of the key solutions in order to help address the potential of student mental crisis is to help students figure out how they can take care of themselves when they struggle.
Here are some basic tips for learning how to deal with student mental and emotional crisis in advance of, or while it is happening.
Stick with the basics:
Be sure to get enough sleep, eat well and exercise regularly. This can be challenging as a student on a college campus when you are wanting to live on pop and pizza to save time and study. No matter what your situation – whether you are pressed for time or not – it is super important to sleep at least 8 hours a night, eat healthy, and get in some regular movement on a day-to-day basis.
Use the student services available:
No matter your challenges as a student, there are number of institutions on campus that can help you with any challenges you might have. For example, on the number of college campuses, there are Student Accessibility Services (SAS) which offer a number of services is that include: mental and emotional well-being, academic accommodations, special arrangements for students with mental health issues (such as: added time to complete assignments and exams), academic coaching, one-on-one counselling, group counselling sessions on stress management and cognitive behaviour therapy techniques and the presence of therapy dogs, which offer a mood boost during exam time. And so, if you feel overwhelmed by the school process, these services can help you deal with that transition.
Focus on the highlights:
Even though school can be tough, try your best to maintain a positive attitude. You can do this by engaging in the practice of gratitude practice, writing down three things you are thankful for every day, and performing and act of kindness each day. This will do wonders for your mental health, which will in turn have positive effects on your school life.
Remember to keep your social connections:
While you may go to a busy school with tons of students, it is not unusual to feel lonely on a big campus. This is particularly true for students who are going to school away from their hometown. An easy way to avert this feeling is to regularly keep in contact with those you love and care about. Be sure to constantly check-in with your family and friends whether it be through text, email or phone. This will help you feel connected, and in the long run keep your positive spirits up – all of which will contribute to your success rate in school.
Manage your load:
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the daunting task of school. This is why it is incredibly important to make time for self-care, and to reduce the stress of your workload if you find that it is too overwhelming. Remember that it is possible to say no to social obligations, or to ask for help and extensions if you cannot meet your deadlines. Also, remember to keep track of all of your commitments – and if there our tasks that you cannot get to find ways to rearrange your schedule so that your tasks are more manageable.
Make use of your agenda:
Knowing what each of your days will look like is one of the major keys to success. Looking over your daily to-do lists helps prioritize what needs to get done, keep your schedule organized, prevents you from being overwhelmed, and it allows you to figure out how to make time for self-care.
Watching and communicating your warning signs:
Having a crisis at school can feel as though it comes out of nowhere or all at once. But there’re always warning signs in advance. Try to keep a good sense of how is school is affecting you. It might help to journal your feelings, or find a confidant who you can check in on with. These are helpful ways to track how you’re feeling about school and how it is impacting your overall well-being. For some, then maybe also lucky to have parents or friends in their camp who recognize the warning signs of a potential crisis.
Build healthy habits:
Being a student on campus presents many opportunities for living an unhealthy life. You may eat more junk food, sleep less or have an erratic sleep schedule, and engage in far less physical activity then you should. There are also other ways to live an unhealthy school lifestyle. For example, campus life presents plenty of opportunities to engage in binge drinking and taking drugs. Additionally, studies show the more time young people spend on social media the greater their chances of depression. Instead of engaging in these activities, try making it a habit to choose healthier options such as: doing hot yoga, going for a run, bike ride or taking a Zumba class. It is also wise to choose a circle of friends who are positive and encouraging.
Talk openly about mental health issues if you have them:
Dealing with mental health is much more common than most people realize. Unfortunately, for so many, dealing with mental health still carries a significant stigma and shame that many cannot shake. However, by discussing the nature and prevalence of mental health issues that you may be facing in an open manner with someone who you trust will help the stigma and shame dissipate. If you are lucky to have a safe outlet, be sure to openly communicate the challenges you are experiencing whether it is with your parents, extended family, or friends. For those students who may find it a challenge to openly convey their mental health status, you may consider visiting with health professionals such as therapists and psychiatric nurses to understand the best way to handle and work through your mental health crisis. Thankfully, many college campuses are developing strategies and approaches to mental health that are much more compassionate, empathetic, and encouraging such as: offering mental health services, putting together programming and conferences to discuss the nature of mental health challenges, and even encouraging professors to find ways to openly support and assist students who are experiencing these kinds of challenges. By openly discussing what you are facing with a professor, a peer, a friend, a family member, or an expert, this is an active way to address any depression or anxieties that may result from your school environment.
While these are but a few tips and suggestions as to how to handle the back to school moment, it is important to remember that by sticking to the basics and finding tangible ways to communicate and reach out supportive systems, the majority of challenges where mental health and emotional well-being are concerned can be addressed efficiently and without too much harm to the student. Well school and school life comes with its challenges, it does not, nor should it be a difficult and taxing experience. Rather, there are many easy ways to establish healthy patterns and healthy circles of support that will make your school experience all the more positive.