Growing mental health services on campus

For many first-year students, walking into a large lecture hall can be intimidating. When University of Windsor student Maya Madolyn attended a class in the large room 1118 of Erie Hall, the fear was overwhelming.

Growing mental health services on campus Growing mental health services on campus

Natasha Marar
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

For many first-year students, walking into a large lecture hall can be intimidating. When University of Windsor student Maya Madolyn attended a class in the large room 1118 of Erie Hall, the fear was overwhelming.

“I had a panic attack the first week of my first semester,” she said. “I was sitting in the middle and I fled, and I haven’t stepped foot in since then.”

“There’s certain classrooms that I will not enter anymore.”

Madolyn didn’t have first-year jitters; she was dealing with one of the nearly eight panic attacks she experiences each week.

The third-year criminology and social justice student has been struggling with mental illness since she was nine-years old. Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anorexia and Agoraphobia, Madolyn has been on medication for her illnesses and sought help from medical professionals.

“[Borderline Personality Disorder] explains most of my teenage years and my adult life … It’s something that makes it very difficult to be in a workplace environment, in a social environment, because you are constantly doubting yourself, thinking that people are talking about you, mad about you.”

Going to school, “has been a very big challenge,” added Madolyn, who misses a lot of school due to panic attacks and anxiety about leaving her home.

“As I got older and into the workforce and university, I realized people say they understand but you’re still stigmatized. A lot of people don’t get the help they need because they are afraid to come out and say it.”

Madolyn is hoping to shed light on her mental illness and help others by launching a student group this month called Stop the Stigma. The group offers people the chance to anonymously e-mail their mental health questions and stories. It’s members are planning poster awareness
campaigns and hope to also bring attention to homeless and drug abuse, which can be the result of untreated mental illness.

Breaking down the stigma on mental disorders is the goal for several campus organizations, including Student Disability Services, and Psychological Services and Research Centre, which offers long term counselling by graduate students in psychology.

Dr. Rosemary Plastow, a psychologist at the university’s Student Counselling Centre, is organizing Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs Jan. 14 to 18 on campus. Students are welcome to explore mental health issues through plays, music performances, art shows, sessions by local authors, fitness classes and a movie night. All events are free, with some giveaways and food provided.

The events kick off next Monday at 8 p.m. with a key note speech by Michael Landsberg, host of TSN’s Off the Record, who himself suffers from depression.

“He has also recently done a documentary (Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports and Me) … with major Canadian and international athletes. We wanted to focus on a bigger name, someone who was able and willing to talk about their own struggles with mental illness … he is a very good, charismatic speaker,” said Plastow.

Plastow hopes Mental Health Awareness Week will help educate students on the various campus support services, as more students are seeking counselling. Since 2005, the SCC has seen a 100 per cent increase in patients, and average session hours have have doubled from 2.5 to five hours since 2008.

“The biggest challenge is just there are so many students seeking services and you want to provide them with the highest possible level of service. But you have to manage that with seeing new students who come in every week,” remarked Plastow.

Plastow says students choose services on campus because it’s convenient. “It’s a free service, and I think we provide a high level of service. We have very well trained staff.”

Staff at the SCC are hoping that a new campus peer counselling centre will help alleviate some of the demand at their office.

The University of Windsor Students’ Alliance is launching the Peer Support Centre this month. Funded by both the alliance and SCC, the drop in counselling centre will provide a confidential and discrete space for students.

“It’s a confidential environment, where students can feel safe just unloading,” said Sobia Ali-Faisal, a social psychology PhD student and the centre’s co-ordinator.

“It’s something they may not feel they would want to go to a therapist for … but instead they want to talk to someone their own age who is going through similar things.”

Ali-Faisal received nearly 300 applicants for peer support volunteers. “We did not expect that at all. It’s a great sign people are so interested. I’m hoping that will reflect in the number of people who want to use the service as well.”

The PSC will also work with the SCC to refer students who require long-term therapy.

Ali-Faisal wants to network with other student groups and run events that bring awareness to mental health issues.

Ali-Faisal agrees with Madolyn that stigma is the biggest challenge to compelling those in need of counselling to seek help. “People feeling embarrassed … that this is something to be ashamed of. This is one of the things I want to work on, trying to eliminate that stigma … normalizing mental health issues … and using more appropriate language.”

For Madolyn, awareness of mental illnesses is key to fighting the social stigma and helping her live with her disorders.

“It has hindered me, but it has also helped me because when I do leave the house, it’s like a stepping stone towards more confidence. I have relapses like everyone else, but everyday is a triumph and I want people to know that.”


For information about Mental Health Awareness Week, visit uwindsor.ca/mentalhealth. To learn more about Stop the Stigma, visit facebook.com/hashtag.stopthestigma or e-mail

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