Student Stories

Guest Blog: Student Mental Health Story

May 3, 2017 • Written by

The following is a guest blog from Laura McNaughton, Child and Youth Care student at the Notre Dame Campus.

 

Laura McNaughton, RRC Student

For a long time, I have felt like I’ve been living two lives. The life everyone else sees, and the life I see. These two lives are drastically different.

When I was in high school, I was known as the happiest kid in school. “She is always smiling”, “She’s so upbeat and happy”. I was sarcastic and witty and joyful, but as soon as I got home, I would sleep until the next day of school. Then I would put on my happy face again and be the other side of me. No one knew the side of me when I was alone. Even now, after I have told my story to others, they are shocked- they still always say to me “But you were so happy in high school”.

Laura’s original artwork.

Depression is like a paradox. You want the illness acknowledged, but at the same time, you also want to deny it. I guess I was in my denying stage at that time. Then I started to realize I was sinking way too far down into a hole. I was in a full blown depression, I was self harming, and to me that was my normal. I had people in my life who were there for me and helped me get through it, but it was still always there- like a friend that just won’t leave you alone. But they’re not really a friend, they’re this toxic being that helps to deteriorate you. I felt all alone, even though there were people all around me. And it took years for me to be able to look at myself and see someone who was worth being around, worth living, just worth it.

Mental health is a process….

Laura (left) helping bring therapy dogs to RRC as part of her student-led practicum in Child and Youth Care.

I am now 22 years old, and actually about to graduate the Child and Youth Care Program here at Red River College. For my last practicum in my course, I actually did this new, unique student led practicum. I was a mental health advocate, connecting with people and organizations all over the city, and helping to facilitate events. Some things I accomplished were; I helped bring therapy dogs to the college for students in exams, I joined an online peer support network, I joined the advisory committee here at the college, I went to mental health talks, created my own business cards and am currently working on my own mental health event. Basically, I did so much in this last 7 weeks that I am shocked. This is not where I thought my life would be.

Laura displaying her prescribed psychiatric medication.

I used to be anxious as all hell, and too depressed to get out of bed to come to school. I used to think I had no future, and I was not going to amount to anything. This last practicum has really helped me to flourish and become who I was meant to be. Mental health is something I am so passionate about, and because of that passion, I have seen my dream become a reality.

Don’t get me wrong- I still have my bad days, I’m still depressed and have those days where I can’t function, I am still anxious, I am on medication to help, but I have something in my life to look forward to. I have found something that gets me out of bed everyday- my passion for helping others.

Mental health is so important to understand, and I want all of us to be on the positive spectrum, but it is an everyday process. It is not something that is going to come easy for some, and that is ok. It is ok not to be ok! I want to be that support for people who feel so in the dark, they cannot see the light. I want to be that light for them.

I have and am currently struggling with a mental illness, but I am here to say, that it will not stop you from accomplishing what you want out of life. It might give you some hiccups here and there, but it is not your whole life. It is not you, it is a part of you- and you are strong and beautiful and amazing and you can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t listen to the lies your illness tells you, You can do it. I believe in you.

I used to be scared to talk about my issues openly, but if it can help someone else not feel alone then I am going to do it everyday for the rest of my life.

“I know its hard to understand, if its never happened to you, but just realize its important to talk about for someone to be able to get through

 

so lets start talking about mental illness – realize it is not a choice. these people are sick, and need more of a voice

 

We need to end the stigma around mental health, Stand up, make a change, and realize happiness is our greatest wealth”

 

-excerpt from poem by Laura McNaughton

If you would like to write a guest blog about your mental health journey, please contact Breanna, Mental Health Coordinator, at blsawatzky@rrc.ca.

Guest Blog: Student Mental Health Recovery Story

March 20, 2017 • Written by

Below is a Gust Blog Written by Thania Bazan, RRC Student.

How Breathing Techniques Have Helped Me Deal with Physical and Mental Health

Hi! I am a second year student at Red River College Notre Dame Campus and enrolled in the Early Childhood Education Program. I am in my last term and will soon graduate.

In 2009, my life was very different from what it is right now. I had recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a physical condition in the body that brings pain and stiffness to the muscles. I had also been suffering from depression and anxiety for several years that took me to the Emergency room with suicidal thoughts. I received medication with antidepressants but even with the medication it was hard to feel completely happy and willing to go on with life.

In 2013, I was introduced to The Art of Living Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is present in over 150 countries around the world. This foundation offers a course based on powerful breathing techniques to help with anxiety, depression and different physical and emotional illnesses.

I attended a workshop for a weekend and learned how to practice the Sudarshan Kriya Breathing Techniques. After the first session of practicing Sudarshan Kriya, my body, mind and spirit felt more relaxed. I started practicing these techniques every day for a period of a year. After a year of practicing the breathing techniques, I got enrolled in Red River College, for the first time I felt confident I had a tool that would help me deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

I have been practicing Sudarshan Kriya for the last four years and have been able to see and feel the benefits of practicing these techniques in my daily life. When feeling stressed out, exhausted or simply needing to concentrate for a school assignment, I practice Sudarshan Kriya.

 

 

I would like to invite you to explore the option of practicing these breathing techniques for relaxation and awakening of your mind. The Art of Living foundation will be holding an information session at Red River College Notre Dame Campus for people interested in taking this workshop. More information about the information session will be posted on this blog soon!                

Sincerely,

Thania Bazan

If you’d like to write a guest blog please contact Breanna at blsawatzky@rrc.ca

Guest Blog: On Stigma and Mental Illness, From an RRC Alum

January 24, 2017 • Written by

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Below is a guest blog from RRC alum Jennifer Schroeder who is a mother of two, living with mental illness.

We talk a lot about the stigma attached to mental illness and the ways in which we can break down those walls. Stigma is often the driving force behind many of the barriers individuals with mental health disorders experience. Today, I would like to talk a little about those barriers and how they can and do affect us in our daily lives.
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While we have made many strides toward creating a more accessible and inclusive world, we still have far to go. As a child, my inability to concentrate in school was written off as ‘problem behavior’, and so that label followed me. The trouble with labels, is if you are told something enough times, you start to believe that is all you are. Shame is a barrier to seeking help and in turn, getting better.

Just over a year ago, I had no choice but to leave my place of employment because of my health. Mental health in the workplace is largely misunderstood, and this exacerbates the vicious cycle of shame, guilt and self-doubt. Not being able to work outside of the home can be a huge financial barrier for many individuals and families and acquiring Employment and Income Assistance due to a disability requires overcoming many hurdles, with the potential to end up with nothing. When answering the phone or even dealing with a simple task such as paying a bill seems like too much to handle, 20+ pages of forms, doctors visits and assessments can feel insurmountable.

6ab159b83703494f162b75d06eb957f8As a parent suffering with mental illness, I have encountered many hurdles throughout my journey. Something as seemingly small as getting up and out of the house to bring my child to school can be incredibly challenging for me, and because no alternative options are available, sometimes she doesn’t go. My children miss out on a lot of things because I am just not healthy enough to handle it. My meal preparation often includes quick and easy processed foods because I lack the energy and motivation to cook homemade, healthy meals from scratch. My laundry piles up for days, sometimes weeks until I am left with no clean clothes. Sometimes my kids watch TV all day, because I can’t get off of the couch. Add social media with its constant barrage of curated lives and meme shaming and it is enough to make someone feel alone and dejected. This is the never-ending cycle so many of us face and don’t talk openly about.

136222017As a student dealing with mental illness, feeling like you cannot focus, retain information or keep up with your course load can be a major roadblock. Telling an instructor you couldn’t make a deadline because of a panic attack can feel humiliating. Maybe your mental health has even prevented you from pursuing higher education, preventing you from achieving your dream. All of these things are real and valid. We must find ways to adapt our education systems to set us up for success, not failure.

cropped-colour-fix-logo1There are so many unique barriers; I am unable to touch on them all. Everyone experiences mental illness in a different way and in turn will experience varying forms and degrees of difficulty. Mental health can affect every aspect of the life of the individual suffering, from relationships, to employment, to parenting, to mundane everyday tasks. To work towards inclusivity and accessibility in a world built for the mentally well; we need to refrain from assessments or judgments of ones abilities just because their illness is invisible. We need to re-evaluate our intentions when dealing with a friend, family member or co-worker dealing with mental illness. We need to listen to what they say and believe them.

Jenn

If you are an RRC student experiencing academic difficulties due to a mental health problem or illness, please contact Accessibility Services. You can set up an appointment here

How I Happy

October 5, 2016 • Written by

Republished with permission from Cassandra Cardy, a student in Red River College Creative Communications program.

I dipped low this summer. I have dipped before in my life and usually justified the feelings of sadness and guilt with hormones or growing up.

I got up, left the house without saying goodbye to anyone like I was doing every day, and I got into my car.

I didn’t know where I was going but I had a phone number my friend gave me a couple weeks ago and I couldn’t live with myself another day. I don’t like saying “myself” because from February-August I was not myself. In fact, what I was experiencing was a deep longing for my old self. I missed her. I missed her like I missed a dead person, like she was never coming back. I don’t know how, when or why she left.

I drove down the highway toward town with nowhere to go. No desires. No wants. No purpose. Nothing was making me want to do this again tomorrow. There was no point to any of this.

I pulled into the truck stop I drive by every day for 20 years and parked in the foreign parking lot with semis and road-trippers using the bathroom.

I call the number for a mental health nurse my friend gave me. It rang and it rang and her friendly voice came on at the end and said to leave a message. I rested my head on the steering wheel.

Forty-five minutes later I was in Brandon putting a Toonie in a parking meter. I stepped around the smeared tent caterpillars on the sidewalk while walking to the downtown clinic.

I walked passed the brochures on suicide and abortion. I walked passed the pile of sticky Home Sense Magazine on the coffee table waiting room. A lady’s head stuck out from behind the admin counter and when she looked at me from over her glasses I began to sob.

“I need help.”

Read More →

Kieran Moolchan’s mental health story

December 10, 2014 • Written by
Photo credit: Nolan Bicknell

Photo credit: Nolan Bicknell

Red River College student Kieran Moolchan is open and honest about his mental health struggles. In fact, he bravely told the whole world about his experiences with depression and contemplating suicide on his blog.

“I wanted to help breakdown stigma but I was also reaching out for help,” said Kieran. “I poured my heart out and with one click — I told everyone what was really going on with me.”

The beginning of a long-road

After going public on the Internet with his struggles in August, Kieran received an outpouring of support from friends, acquaintances, college instructors and even people he’d never met. At that time, he decided to seek help from a psychologist and began taking anti-depressants for depression.

Over the next few months, Kieran experienced many ups and downs. Eventually, he was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder — a condition that involves feeling ‘up’ for several weeks at a time and then crashing and feeling extremely low.

In January, Kieran began having suicidal thoughts again and turned to his blog to express how he was feeling. He wrote about how close he had come yet again to taking his own life and about the stigma people with mental illnesses face — a blog post that would receive more than 100,000 views.

Getting help

About a month later, Kieran spent some time at the Mental Health Crisis Response Centre at the Health Sciences Centre. It was there that it began to sink in that his mental illness was not his fault.

“I finally accepted that I wasn’t a personal failure for feeling the way I did,” said Kieran. “It sunk in that I don’t have control over the chemicals in my body. I also learned that the best thing I can do is come up with plans and that I need to rely on other people to help me make and stick to those plans.”

One day at a time

It’s been several months since Kieran’s visit to the Mental Health Crisis Response Centre and he is making and sticking to his plans. He’s also involving friends to help him stay accountable.

“If I want to go for a run, I’ll phone someone to go with me. If I feel like playing video games for an hour, I’ll text someone to see if they want to join me online. It doesn’t really matter what it is that I’m doing, as long as I commit to it, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, which helps with my mood and maintaining a positive outlook.”

And blogging?

He’s still at it — check out his latest posts at kieranmoolchan.com

Lauren MacLean: talking helps take care of my mental health

March 16, 2014 • Written by

LaurenLauren MacLean is president of the Red River College Students’ Association. She is completing her second year of Business Administration with an accounting major. After receiving her RRC diploma she plans to continue her studies towards a Commerce degree. 

When Lauren MacLean, president of the Red River College Students’ Association (RRCSA) started feeling stressed out, she didn’t hesitate to do something about it. She called her friends and talked to them about what was going on in her life. When that didn’t translate into her feeling much better, she made an appointment with a counsellor.

“At one point, talking to my friends was actually making things worse for me because I was feeling guilty about going on and on about the same things, said Lauren. “It was a relief to talk to a counsellor because there were no expectations and I didn’t feel like I was burdening anyone.”

Reaching out for help

Lauren started seeing a counsellor in Counselling and Accessibility Services once a week. After working through her feelings and coming up with a plan for minimizing stress and other negative feelings, she didn’t need to visit as often. Now, she simply checks in when she feels she needs to — about once a month.

“I’m in a good place now. It’s not often that I have intense feelings of anger or frustration or lots of stress that I need to work through like I did when I first started going,” said Lauren. “What I get out of sessions now is mostly feedback about whether I’m on the right track with something or that my goals are realistic.”

Sometimes a fresh perspective from someone we aren’t close to is exactly what we need to move forward. It was, and still is, something Lauren finds helpful.

“When I talk to my counsellor, Chad, he asks questions and points things out that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of on my own,” said Lauren. “This is great because in my role with the RRCSA, I need to examine issues and decisions from many angles and think about how they affect different people. This kind of thinking also comes in handy when I’m working with other students on group projects.”

A great resource for students

For Lauren, Counselling and Accessibility Services is a vital resource that more students should take advantage of.

“I don’t want any student to feel ashamed or weird about seeing a counsellor. The counsellors at RRC are free and honestly, they’re awesome. There is no one solution to coping with mental health issues — some people will find solace in drawing or spending time with their dog — but counsellors are one great resource that I highly recommend.”

Interested in scheduling an appointment?

If you’d like to make an appointment with a counsellor, complete the online intake form. Someone will be in contact with you to schedule an appointment.

Perception is not reality

February 9, 2014 • Written by

Perception is reality

Post written by Lauren MacLean

Back in high school, I was very interested in fashion and design, so of course I bought tons of magazines, tried lots of different styles and played with makeup. I had some majorly weird outfits that I’m happy I never took photos of! (This was before the selfie made it big). Think pink eye shadow, furry lace-up boots with miniskirts, mixing patterns and trying on my mom’s clothes from the 70’s. Yeah.

Teen Vogue was one of the magazines I bought religiously. Every month, waiting for the newest issue was almost painful. Once I got it, I’d read it cover to cover, advertisements and everything. If you’ve never read this magazine, it contains lots of picture stories (editorials), articles on the latest health trend (or scare), a spotlight on a trendy starlit and lot and lots of ads. All the clothes and accessories featured are horrendously expensive, and most of the fashion editorials are really out there.

Looking back, It’s hard believe I wanted to be like the thin models with their bones sticking out of their clothes because now, I think having muscles is so much more attractive. But it’s true, I was no exception to those who fell for the media’s messages about beauty. I remember thinking about how being able to fit into small, expensive clothes like the models was a measure of success.

As I read these magazines, I soaked up all the latest fashion tips and tricks like a dry sponge. I also found myself vulnerable to believing everything in the articles. There were articles about everything from prescription drug abuse to date rape to one on body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that particularly stuck out to me. BDD is a condition where the person becomes excessively worried about one body part. I remember finishing the article and thinking, “If so many people have this, I wonder if I have it too”.

Over the next few weeks, I became convinced that I had BDD. I eventually went to my mom and confided in her. She was dumbfounded that I would self-diagnose myself using Teen Vogue. She forbade me from ever buying another Teen Vogue.

It seemed harsh at the time, but as the weeks went by, not looking at those images or reading those articles was a relief. I even started to notice how phony the media can be sometimes. It took a little while but I was able to stop comparing myself and my ailments to others and just focus on doing my own thing. I continued experimenting with my hair, makeup, and accessories, of course, but I didn’t need anyone or any magazine telling me what to do or believe. I started concentrating on what matters — just being me.

Lauren

About Lauren

Lauren MacLean is president of the Red River College Students’ Association. She is completing her second year of Business Administration with an accounting major. After receiving her RRC diploma she plans to continue her studies towards a Commerce degree. 

The link between food insecurity and mental health

January 9, 2014 • Written by
Rebecca

Rebecca puts together a package of food for a student at the RRC Campus Food Bank. Photo credit: Jessica Botelho-Urbanski.

Rebecca Trudeau is a second-year student in the Community Development/Community Economic Development program. She is Red River College’s food bank coordinator, an active volunteer in the community and was the recipient of the 2014 Premiere of Manitoba Volunteer Service Award.

Food insecurity

There is a direct link between mental health and ‘food insecurity’ (not having regular access to food). This is because many people with mental illnesses continue to be stigmatized when applying for jobs or in the workforce, making it difficult for them to gain employment or hold down a steady job. In 2013, approximately 90 per cent of Canadians with a diagnosed mental illness were unemployed leaving many of these people to rely on a food bank.

Any registered dietician will tell you that mental health is impacted by diet. When people who are unemployed are not eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet, their mental health is also affected in a negative way, perpetuating a negative situation, especially for people vulnerable to mental illness. Being food insecure also generates feelings of depression, guilt, shame, anxiety, stress, anger, and decreased energy — all without a doubt having a negative impact on overall mental health.

My experience

I have quite a bit of experience working with people dealing with mental health issues and food insecurity. This past summer I worked at Food Matters Manitoba. I also run Red River College’s Campus Food Bank and am a long-time volunteer turned employee with Winnipeg Harvest.

Growing up, I also experienced firsthand the impact mental health and unemployment has on food insecurity. Many of my family members have been diagnosed with mental health issues including my mother who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and has substance abuse issues. I grew up on social assistance, which had a significant impact on my family’s ability to access nutritious food on a regular basis. In fact, there were times where we didn’t have any food at all.

Typically, a single mother on social assistance receives about $12,300 per year, which is supposed to cover rent, utilities, transportation, personal care items such as clothes and food. However, there is often little money left over for food after paying bills. This means many Manitobans have to turn to Winnipeg Harvest — the main distribution centre for more than 380 agencies in Manitoba. These agencies supply food to approximately 64,000 clients every month — 47 per cent of them children. Other clients include seniors, individuals with physical disabilities, newcomers, single mothers, and highest of all, people with mental health issues.

Changing our perceptions

Even though one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, there is still a stigma attached to having a mental health issue, especially for people who are unemployed. We need to change these negative attitudes and perceptions because with understanding and the right help, people with mental health issues can build skills, confidence and contribute greatly to our society.

Red River College helps about 70 families every two weeks at its food banks located at the Notre Dame and Exchange District Campuses. The people accessing this food could be your classmates, friends or the student sitting next to you in the library.

So before you make assumptions about someone with a mental health issue or who visits a food bank, I ask you to consider about how complex their situation is. I ask you to please be considerate and show kindness because most of the time, they are just doing the best they can.

More information:

Please visit RRC’s website to find out more about the Campus Food Bank.