New MSVU project promotes positive mental health

The new project at MSVU encourages students to use counseling services

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Posters from the I'm Feeling... project aim to remove some of the stigma around mental health by having students take part. (Photo: Chelcie Soroka)

Mount Saint Vincent University has launched a new project to promote positive mental health among its students.

The 'I'm Feeling...' project is "a proactive approach to encourage students to think about their own mental health and take early action if there is something wrong before it becomes too late," says Kenney Fitzpatrick, general manager of the MSVU student union.

So far, the project consists of posters hung up around campus with photos of students stating how they're feeling. Student responses ranged from excited and optimistic to tired and busy to stressed and anxious. Fitzpatrick says the students' union next step is to have postcards printed and distributed around the school. He also hopes to film a video in the New Year.

The student union partnered with counseling services for the project.

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Kenny Fitzpatrick from the student union (left) and Marriam Abou-El-Haj from counseling services (right) are helping to organize the new project at MSVU to promote positive mental health in students. (Photo: Chelcie Soroka)

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Fitzpatrick took inspiration for the I'm Feeling... project from the video for the song 'You Make Me Feel...' by the group Cobra Starship.

"Through my work here in the student union I see a lot of students who struggle," Fitzpatrick said in an interview on Monday. "I take them and walk them up to [counseling services]. It's not that there's something wrong with you it's just that they can help you strategize your time," he says.

Counseling services at MSVU helps students manage their time, solve problems, improve study skills and get in touch with other services, including health services, career counseling or academic advising.

Marriam Abou-El-Haj is a psychologist (candidate register) with counseling services at MSVU. "A lot of students don't understand it's those little things that we can help them with, and stop it from getting to that overwhelming, dropping out of school or falling apart point," she says.

Abou-El-Haj says the project aims to remove some of the stigma around mental health. "Who doesn't need one hour every couple of weeks where it just gets to be about you? You can dump it and feel relieved and off you go," she says.

The project also helps to encourage student retention and help students feel more balanced so they're more likely to remain in university, Abou-El-Haj says.

Daniel McNeil, a third-year public relations student, says "I think university is a stressful place for people, so mental health is something you've got to keep positive. I don't think it's something that should be hidden or buried down." McNeil says he hasn't gone to counselling services before.

According to Statistics Canada, there were more Nova Scotians who felt their mental health was fair or poor in 2010, than in the previous three years. There were no specific statistics available on university students.

Mental health at other universities

Counseling services at Dalhousie University also serves the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the University of King's College. Dr. Victor Day, a psychologist, is the director of counseling services at Dal.

In the 2010/2011 school year, 1,996 students visited Dal counseling services, resulting in, "6,538 sessions, which was a seven per cent increase over last year," Day says.

The majority of their appointments are for students with anxiety, often related to exams and public speaking, says Day. He says about a third of the appointments are urgent, meaning "they're not really of immediate safety risk, but they're doing very badly. They're not functioning."

Safia Haq, a don at Alexandra Hall residence at the University of King's College, is part of the King's Mental Health Awareness Collective. She says the collective is something she and a couple of other dons started two years ago. She says they started it to "acknowledge that there are mental health issues many of our students face and [be a] kind of forum for discussion."

Saint Mary's University students can seek mental health help by going to health services or counseling services. Jane Collins is the registered nurse manager at SMU's health services. She says she sees a lot of students get stressed because of exams, money or relationships.

"I wrote a sick note for someone today and they said, 'I couldn't get out of bed for a week -so stressed out- I couldn't write the exam, I couldn't eat,'" Collins explained.

Sarah Morris, assistant director of student services at SMU, says about 1,400 students utilize their mental health services each year. "Depression and anxiety would be the most frequent reason why students would visit. We also offer intake, which is when you're seen the day you call," she said.

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