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Campus Well-Being

Mind it!

Lauren MacLean: talking helps take care of my mental health

March 16, 2014

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

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.


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. 

Don’t sweat a visit to the counselling office

February 2, 2014

ChadChad Smith is a counsellor at Red River College in Counselling & Accessibility Services. He holds his Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work from the University of Manitoba.

So you’ve heard Red River College (RRC) offers free counselling to students and you think you might want to give it a try, but what should you expect at your first visit? And what types of things can a counsellor really help you with anyway?

Well, we spoke to Chad Smith, one of the counsellors at RRC’s Exchange District Campus, and it turns there’s a lot they can help you with!

Here’s the lowdown on everything from what you can talk to them about (anything), how often you can visit (as often as you need), who will know you’re going there (nobody) and much more.

mind it!: What types of things can counsellors help students with?

Chad: We can help students work through a wide variety of issues. We offer personal counselling, career counselling and academic counselling — there really isn’t any topic that’s off limits. From homelessness to addiction to childhood traumas such as sexual abuse, we can talk about anything the student feels we need to address.

mind it!: What can students expect the first time they come to your office?

Chad: The first time we meet with a student we will do what’s called an ‘intake’ where we ask them lots of questions to determine what they’re looking to achieve through counselling. It’s really just an opportunity for us to meet the student and for the student to meet us. It takes approximately an hour.

mind it!: What are the most common issues that come up during sessions?

Chad: The most common reasons students seek counselling is for depression and anxiety, stress and relationships troubles.

mind it!: How do you help them work through these issues?

Chad: Let’s take a student experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety for example. First, we’ll explore what it means to them when they say that they’re feeling stressed and anxious. This is because there’s normal stress and anxiety that students can expect while in school, but then there’s stress and anxiety levels that are unmanageable.

After we’ve established the level of stress and anxiety, we’ll take a look at different ways that they have coped in the past and try to determine what has been helpful. We’ll also talk about environment, because it’s often not about the student but their surroundings. For instance, if you live in poverty and you’re constantly worried about safe housing, that stress is going to impact your success in school.

Lastly, I’ll connect the student to other resources, if necessary. If I’m working with a student living in poverty for example, we may talk about student loans, grant programs, or bursaries and awards they may be eligible for.

mind it!: How long will a student usually see you for? Once? Many times throughout the year?

Chad: It really depends on what the student is going through. We see some students once and others regularly throughout the year. On average, I’d say we probably see students for about eight sessions, but if it makes sense to see them more often then we’ll do that. If a student needs longer-term counselling or more specialized counselling we may refer them to a community resource or agency. But we can still be that students’ on-campus support person.

mind it!: Will my instructors and peers know that I’m seeing a counsellor?

Chad: Counselling is completely confidential. We will never disclose information about a student without their consent. So in other words, no one will know you are seeing a counsellor if you don’t want them to.

mind it!: What if I’m in crisis, can I see someone right away?

Chad: There’s always one counsellor available to meet with students who are in crisis. Sometimes the student won’t get in to see someone right that minute, but we always do our best to get them in and they will definitely see someone that same day.

mind it!: What if I’m in crisis when your office is closed?

Chad: There are some great resources in the community including drop-in counselling at Klinic, the mobile crisis unit and a few different 24 hour crisis help lines. Students can call these resources anytime to talk with someone at no cost.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call:

Klinic Community Health Centre
(204) 786-8686 or toll free 1-888-322-3019 or TTY (Deaf Access) 204-784-4097

Got the winter blues?

January 21, 2014

winter blues

If you’ve been feeling down lately, there may be more to it then the fact winter break has come to an end.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people starting in the fall and throughout winter. This is because as the days get shorter and the weather colder, we spend less time outdoors soaking up sunlight and our much-needed Vitamin D.

On average, SAD affects 2-3 per cent of Canadians. Living in cold climates like ours (yay for Manitoba!), we’re especially susceptible to developing SAD. Some of the symptoms include irritability, moodiness, fatigue, a lack of motivation and increased appetite.

“The two things people notice most is that they want to sleep longer and eat more often”, says Tessa Blaikie, youth mental health promotions worker at the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg. “This is because our bodies are lacking the energy we typically get from the sun and is looking to get it from somewhere else. It’s one reason people experience weight gain during the winter.”

Think you might be experiencing SAD? There are a couple surprisingly simple ways to feel better fast.

Since the best way to absorb sunlight in the winter is through your eyes, one of the ways to do this is by spending at least 10 minutes outdoors (I know, I know — it’s freezing!) without sunglasses on. Another possibility is to take a Vitamin D supplement each day.

For people who may be experiencing more severe symptoms, there are lamps that recreate the same light waves the sun does called SAD lamps. The lamps are easy to use (you wear them on your head) and the light is always in your peripheral so you can read, walk around, make lunch — whatever you need to do. They start at about $70 each and are widely available at health stores.

Looking for more information on SAD? Read this article from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

The link between food insecurity and mental health

January 9, 2014


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.

RRC Polytech campuses are located on the lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininew, Dakota, and Dené, and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We recognize and honour Treaty 3 Territory Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the source of Winnipeg’s clean drinking water. In addition, we acknowledge Treaty Territories which provide us with access to electricity we use in both our personal and professional lives.

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