Here2Talk; screenshot from

Students are studying and working through a difficult time at this point in the semester. It is mid-November and though there is only a month left of school, students are carrying the stress of the second round of midterms, papers, missing assignments, final projects, upcoming final exams, and the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on the location of a student, they may be experiencing more strict COVID-19 lockdowns than other students, undoubtedly impacting their mental health and adding to a sense of isolation.

UBCO student Jayme Miller shared how the COVID-19 lockdown impacts her well-being, “Since I'm in lockdown in Montreal, when I actually do take some time off of my studies, there's really not much to do here anyway, so I find myself thinking, well maybe I should just keep working … Going to get groceries is often the only time I leave the house.” Working all the time is not ideal, but when one is in lockdown like Jayme, the reality is that there is not much else to do.

What’s more, the numbing cold of winter is creeping in and it is getting dark by 4:30 pm. For students who suffer from seasonal depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or appropriately, S.A.D, studying through this time is even harder. Symptoms of SAD can include “a persistent low mood, a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt, and worthlessness, feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day, sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning.”

For students who experience any of the symptoms of S.A.D, it is increasingly difficult to stay motivated and on top of school right now. Students are generally exhausted, overwhelmed, demotivated, and likely struggling with maintaining their mental health during this global pandemic. Trying to navigate all of the mental health services can be overwhelming and feel like yet another assignment. Jayme Miller succinctly described the way I suspect most students are feeling right now. She emphasized how she is “too stressed and overwhelmed to even be able to try the mental health [services] which would probably help with said stress and overwhelmed feelings.”

As students, our calendars are never truly empty. Therefore, it is important to actively seek out the mental health resources that UBCO offers. Avoiding dealing with negative symptoms will only prolong the issues. Luckily, as UBCO students, we have access to free mental health services, including free counseling, the wellness center, and self-help links.

In light of Thrive month and UBCO’s focus on mental health literacy, The Phoenix has taken the time to sift through some of the mental health resources offered at UBCO and utilize the new mental health service called the “Student Assistant Program” (SAP). SAP is a free, 24/7 wellness resource for students. The program’s services include personal counseling, life coaching, group programs, and more. The program provides a wide range of support for student life, health and wellness, and finances. To access this program, students can either download the app called iConnectYou on their phones or log in to the Aspira website.

After accessing the service through phone, text, mobile app, or live chat on the website, “you will be greeted by a registered intake counselor, who will ask you for your contact information. The intake counselor will then ask some details about what you’re experiencing and the kind of support you are looking for and recommend a course of action. You will be able to choose the approach for your appointment: by phone, video, face-to-face (where available), or instant messaging or chat counseling.”

I think that the app is more convenient than the website, however, the app itself is a bit dry in terms of aesthetics and the articles are tedious to look through. While the website is less handy, it is easier to navigate, and it has a virtual option to request that a counselor contact you directly, where students simply input their email instead of making an awkward phone call. When I used iConnectYou’s live chat option I found that talking through my feelings was helpful, and the counselor provided some useful suggestions for how to manage my stress, but I did not exactly require in the moment support. She noticed this and suggested that I call the toll free, 24/7 line, 250-999-7615, to schedule regular counseling sessions in order to best cater to my needs. She also reminded me that UBCO students receive free counseling. Every student should take advantage of free, regular counseling, even if they do not think they need it. It can only help.

If you try iConnectYou and do not like its interface, I would recommend downloading a similar free app called Here2Talk. It is more user friendly and I personally found it to be more effective than iConnectYou. Every student is individual and it is worth it to take the time to figure out what supports work best for each person. While these live chat, mental health apps often provide quick, in the moment support, they can be utilized as more than just a bandaid. They can be a catalyst towards seeking long term mental health support.

Personally, I put my mental health on the backburner during school, assuming I’ll focus on it more when my schedule clears up—yet it never does. I wish that I had taken advantage of these free supports sooner and not just in my last year of school. Suffering in silence is unnecessary—especially when there are so many free services offered for students. In fact, there are so many services offered that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. However, students owe it to themselves to take initiative and look into these services, especially during a global pandemic that has collectively impacted mental health.

I recommend starting small, familiarizing yourself with what UBCO offers for students, and considering what resources suit your needs best. Access some helpful links here: