Founder of Students’ Distress Centre Club at Mount Royal University encourages her peers to speak up.
While many post-secondary students struggle in silence with the mounting academic, social, and financial pressures they face, Cordelia Snowdon is encouraging her peers to reach out for help.
Snowdon, a recent graduate of the Social Work Diploma program at Mount Royal University, founded the Students’ Distress Centre Club with the goal of boosting mental health awareness on campus. Based on a similar organization established at the University of Calgary, the club hosts roundtable discussions, provides self-care opportunities for students, and promotes resources for support.
Initiatives like Snowdon’s come at a critical time for mental health on campus. A 2013 survey reported that out of the students polled at four Canadian post-secondary institutions, almost 90 per cent had experienced feelings of hopelessness in the past year, while more than 50 per cent said they had felt overwhelmed.
We asked Snowdon to share her perspective on student mental health, and how she hopes to empower her peers to create lasting change.
MD: What are the barriers that prevent university students from being proactive about their mental health?
CS: I think the largest is stigma. Even just around the term mental health. Some people hear that and they automatically assume it’s a bad thing. You can have good mental health, and many people don’t realize that. And I think there are also already so many changes when you’re going through university, or college, any kind of school, that you can’t find your feet for a lot of it. And honestly, it’s not necessarily that the resources [for mental health support] aren’t there – because I think in a lot of cases they are – but it’s about having students find them, and then trusting in them.
MD: What motivated you to start speaking up about mental health?
CS: My dad was a social worker, so I’m proud to say I had a very pleasant childhood and a good experience growing up, and I think my story is more that I want to try and find ways to help other people have that kind of experience… I knew from an early age that if I did need help, it was there. So it’s trying to provide that option for people, or that resource, because of my own experiences.
MD: Why is it important for youth to be part of the conversation on mental health awareness?
CS: Because there’s still so much opportunity for them. With youth, there’s still so much potential that, even if they’ve been struggling for a while with mental illness, there’s still time. And there’s that hope. You’re young, you can get better, and you can then find ways to help other people.
MD: How do you hope to see that conversation on mental health continue to develop in the next five or ten years?
CS: I hope people will be more open about asking the questions. During some of our discussions we try and encourage a safe place to ask those questions that maybe you feel like you should already know. Sometimes you’ve got to have the tough conversations, like, “Why isn’t it okay to call someone a schizophrenic?” [We want] for people to be comfortable asking those questions, and then for others to be willing to answer.