Froshing Up Mental Health

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The University of Toronto, Trinity College.

Well, I have officially moved across the country to the loud and energetic city of Toronto! The past week I have been participating in an experience which many teens have been snapchatting about, and many adults still look back on fondly: Frosh Week

The specific Urban Dictionary definition of Frosh Week is: “The most radical and exciting week of a (Canadian) college freshman’s life. There’s a lot of drinking, partying, and optional clothing along with some lukewarm beverages and awkward pretentious flirting. It’s the ideal way to kick off college.” I can now definitely confirm that aspects of that definition are accurate, but as with most urban dictionary definitions there are some serious aspects missing. 

While I did experience my fair share of loud chanting, new friendships, toga parties, and paint throwing there was also an aspect of frosh week which is not as commonly shared. The adjustment from living at home with a built in support system, surrounded by familiar faces and memories, to a new place with new normalities and all new faces, is something no one can prepare you for.

I’ve often found that in North American culture there is an aspect of shame and labeled weakness attached to showing your emotions. Admitting that you are feeling any other way than happy is like admitting you have oral herpes, very common but people still look at you funny. Mental-Health-Comic

Since a very young age I have known that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Sometimes when I share this with people they don’t even fully believe me, or they don’t understand what this means. The truth of the matter is, there is no blueprint for any mental illness and your own experiences and emotions are completely unique. For me, anxiety doesn’t mean I find it hard to meet new people or don’t like to socialize, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I experience more anxiety in different situations, such as when I feel overwhelmed or isolated. 

Mental-Illness-Prevalence-in-AdultsThere is such a stigma around mental illness that for the longest time I believed my experience was an anomaly. Then I slowly began to realize that everyone experiences anxiety, just on a spectrum. Facts like “1 in 4 adults experience mental illness every year” according to the National Alliance on Mental health, began to make me think about why more people don’t speak about these experiences and struggles. When you are able to share and connect with another human, you will naturally and even scientifically (I’m in University now, I know things like this) feel more supported. 

I still often forget these experiences and full range of emotions are perfectly normal. Potentially not ideal, but definitely normal. Slowly during frosh week, I began to notice for every dozen smiles and laughing fits there was someone glancing at their phone and holding back tears. I began to gain perspective on all of the new #squad selfies people were posting, when I realized most of the groups in pictures had only just met. I was reminded that my experience is most likely very similar to those around me, we are just conditioned to hide and shy away from fully exposing ourselves. 

In University, we can’t afford to do this. 

Astigmaccording to Courtney Knowles, executive director of The JED Foundation, “The average age of onset for many mental health conditions is the typical college age range of 18 to 24 years old”. The JED Foundation is a charitable organization that aims to reduce suicide and improve mental health for colleges students. Hilary Silver, licensed clinical social worker and mental health expert for Campus Calm, explains this by saying, “college calls for a significant transition, where students experience many firsts, including new lifestyle, friends, roommates, exposure to new cultures and alternate ways of thinking”.

My response to this is that some aspects of frosh need to be translated to mental health. I definitely don’t mean the binge drinking part, but some of what I mean is: Talk. Reach out. Be open. Be excited; because figuring out who you are and how to take care of yourself is what University is often about!

I believe reaching out can be the hardest step, so I have a short list of resources for anyone experiencing a mental health emergency or ongoing struggle:

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The Kids Help Phone is an amazing resources which you can access online or over the phone. You can speak to a person on the other end and ask questions or find further support. In its first 25 years, Kids Help Phone’s professional counsellors have connected with over 7.1 million young people. It can be anonymous as well. The Kids Help Phone also works towards de-stigmatizing mental illness through specific events like the Walk so Kids Can Talk event

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Download the app, “SAM”. This app works to help you manage and monitor your anxiety from your smartphone. Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 6.22.34 PM

Booster Buddy is another similar application to SAM, but reaches to support a wider range of mental illness. The app is created and supported by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, as well as the Victoria Hospitals Foundation, among other sponsors. 

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Take some time to be in nature, drink a cup of tea, or be with a pet. No matter what it is that you use to regularly de-stress, make sure you are fully present. This means you aren’t still thinking about that paper you have to write or what you need to pick up at the grocery store, you are fully there in the moment. It might sound wishy-washy, but it’s not as easy as it sounds and the affects are consistently positive. 

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Bonus: You could one day have Michelle Obama’s arms!

Stay active. This one is definitely not the easiest for me, but it has one of the highest benefits for anyones overall mental health. Even if it’s just walking for 20min as a daily habit, regular exercise has an immensely positive effect on anyones overall mental health. 

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Breathe. You can Google lots of deep breathing exercises online, and follow along on YouTube. The proof of how much breathing calms down anxiety or a panic attacks is overwhelming. You don’t need any materials except your body to do this, so why not? 

Connect with other stories and resources. This list could go on forever, but the most powerful thing I’ve ever heard is others’ stories. An amazing resource for this online is the YouTuber Zoella. She is a beauty and lifestyle vlogger, but she also has Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks and is outspoken about it. She often shares with her fanbase how she is truly doing and resources that she’s discovered over the years. 

I think the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There will be ups and downs to anyone’s mental health, from day to day, moment to moment, and from year to year. We are all human and we all experience this, we just don’t talk about it. It’s time that we do. 

Continue to talk about mental health with those around you, seek specific resources within your school or community to keep yourself healthy, support those around you, and keep de-stygmatizing mental illness. 

And, remember, poppers, to see change, share change, be change. Much love xo.

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