Improving mental health over the long term

If you deal with stress by drinking, are you an alcoholic? How many hours spent on the Internet per day is too much? And what are some healthy ways to relieve the pressures that go along with university life?

Members of the Students’ Union Wellness Centre plan to answer these questions and more with Keeping It Real In The Space, a project to teach students, staff and faculty strategies for maintaining their mental health.

With university comes stress. That’s a given. But mental health education co-ordinator Derek Luk said students are usually only offered short-term solutions to deal with the mounting demands in their lives.

“Most forms of stress support on campus are not sustained,” Luk said. “Things like puppy rooms or de-stress packs are great for the moment they’re around, but they’re not long-term strategies.”

Luk compared the problem to the treatment of heart disease. When a patient is sick, they see a doctor and are given medicine. The medicine works temporarily, but over time, the problem persists. If the patient wants to get rid of their ailment for good, they must change their habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

This is what Keeping It Real In The Space is all about: teaching students different lifestyle choices that can improve their mental health.

This involves basic education in psychology so participants can understand tricks their minds play. Luk gave the example of the so-called negative bias.

“With the negative bias, people are really good at looking at threats,” he said. “Evolutionarily, that allowed us to survive. But our brain has not changed much over time, so we still interpret internal and external stresses in a negative way.”

One method Luk teaches to deal with this negative thinking is called mindfulness, a meditation technique that focuses one’s thoughts and sensations on the moment.
At the three sessions, participants will learn how strategies like mindfulness can help them deal with the mental health problems they face.

Participants can submit questions through Twitter at @UofCMHECDerek, or can ask in person at one of the events.

“Online questions are good for students who might be embarrassed to ask their question in a public setting,” Luk said.

Sessions will be held in That Empty Space on Jan.27, Feb.10 and Feb.24 from 12–12:50 p.m.