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Graduate Studies

Mental health

Special guest Aven Lugh Armstrong-Sutton, a counsellor and registered social worker at McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre, joined the virtual café to discuss mental health – how to monitor your mental health, as well as resources and supports available. Below is a synopsis of the discussion and resources.

What is “mental health” and why is it important?

Mental health, as I understand it, is a broad term  that describes both the objective and subjective measures of one’s felt sense of emotional well-being. Objective measures might include things like anxiety and mood disorder symptoms whereas subjective measures might include how agentic one feels or their sense of connection with others.

How does the current situation with COVID-19 affect our mental health?

Social distancing vs physical distancing: There are several articles urging people to consider using the term physical distancing rather than social distancing because the latter presupposes some level of disengagement from others whereas the former focuses on safety measures to prevent the spread of illness. Although physical distancing requires us to change the ways in which we connect socially, it doesn’t require us to be socially disengaged. We have myriad ways to remain in touch during this time.

Thinking about the situation in Canada, in our home country: We often assume that mental health is an individual responsibility, but mental health is just as much relational as it is personal.

For many students, home lies outside the boundaries of Hamilton. This is especially true for international students. Thus, our evaluation of our mental health relies on how we are coping with our fears and worries about loved ones near and far. For many international students, they have added responsibilities that might include trying to manage the care of relatives remotely with limited resources or mechanisms to do so confidentially. Moreover, international students are tasked with monitoring the developments of the pandemic both locally and internationally.

How do I monitor my own mental health?

  • Behaviour changes
  • Comparing to an anchor point
  • Establishing balance

What are some mental health resources available for students?

  • Counselling services through the Student Wellness Centre (SWC) continue to be offered online via videoconferencing or by phone.
  • The SWC continues to offer drop-in and ongoing groups through videoconferencing.
  • The SWC website has useful information and tools students can access to improve wellness.
  • The Canadian and Ontario Mental Health Associations offer online resources and supports.
  • Extended Health Services through the Graduate Students’ Health Plan (Empower Me)
  • Good2Talk
  • Anxiety Canada (online mental health resource that provides information, worksheets, and strategies for wellness)

What can we do to support our own mental health?

  • Be proactive by understanding what you feel like when you’re well and when things start to feel bad.
  • Maintain social connection as our ability to regulate vulnerable feelings relies on how connected we feel.
  • Practice self-compassion (e.g., self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness).
  • Maintain a routine that helps you feel well.
  • Make room to not feel good as when we reject our experience, no matter what it is, we increase our distress.