Accessing professional help for mental health tends to be a complicated process for most, and this can be due to a multitude of factors, including social stigma, whether you have health insurance that covers mental health services, and even how open you are to accepting help. All the steps that come before finding someone to talk to makes it quite difficult to even begin looking for help. Having recently completed my degree, and as someone who is stuck in a limbo period with uncertainty about the future and not having seen my family for over a year, I have become quite curious about how people in very different situations are handling their mental health in the global crisis that will define the second decade of the 21st century.
I spoke to Kojel, who is in her final year at university, and Arthi, an international student in her first year. Neither of them currently lives in Kelowna, and they are both trying to find the best way to take care of their mental health in the new virtual world.
At the moment, Kojel does not participate in talk therapy because it is not available in person. When all resources went virtual, she found therapy was not a good fit for her. As she puts it, “I found that it lacks the calming and safe setting, especially since there is often a lack of privacy on my end of the session.”
As a psychology major who saw a therapist in the past, it felt apt to ask her about how she went about getting help in the first place. She explains that one of the most difficult things to do when she finally decided she wanted to talk to someone is to actually call them, and this is probably “since it made the situation more real.” She also stressed the importance of learning about what you need and who can help you. She advises, “I definitely recommend doing research for the mental health professional that fits what you need. There are a lot of specialised therapists who may be better suited for certain situations. Personally, it took me a while to find someone who was [equipped]”, which is something I had not considered myself, especially as we are both people of colour.
Arthi does not currently meet with a mental health professional either, and has not for a while. She tells me, “I never went to [a mental health professional] when I had access to it in [high] school because I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my issues with a total stranger back then. I still don’t entirely but I also am aware of the benefits therapy has”. Having learnt more about how she can get help, she is hopeful about the safety that a designated space at the university might offer her, once she moves to Kelowna.
Additionally, in India, “mental health services are not commonly covered by health insurance as far as I’m aware”. This is a part of the social stigma that adds to the barriers to access mental health resources. Arthi explains, “I think it has definitely improved, but older generation[s] still have a certain level of underlying stigma surrounding the use of therapists, psychiatrists and medication for mental health”. Similarly, Kojel also explains that it used to be a lot worse, before it got a lot better, “I grew up in a culture that treated mental health as a taboo. It is mostly due to the lack of knowledge that was not available to my family while they were growing up. Talking about my mental health issues with my family definitely warmed them up to the topic but it was definitely not received well from the start.”
Kojel does have health insurance that covers some of the expenses that come with therapy, but “it is an arduous process of papers that I have to fill out in order to receive any sort of reimbursement” and dealing with these only adds to the stresses of the procedure. She is now taking matters into her own hands. She says, “I used positive music, nature and exercise as my main source for coping with my mental health. I always feel better after having a light hangout with friends or just being in the presence of people who you know care about you. This year I was fortunate enough to live with a dog who definitely has a positive impact”.
Arthi reminds me, “It is so important to remind yourself that you’re human, and feeling overwhelmed, especially right now is completely normal and understandable. Seeking help benefits you and those around you in so many ways; [it’s] definitely not an easy first step to take but is so incredibly important”. She emphasises that she “would encourage people to start in small ways, by doing whatever they feel most comfortable with, at least initially”. For her, this means, “Speaking to friends, trying to educate myself on how best to deal with stress and negative emotions, trying to develop healthier coping mechanisms, [and] taking time off”.
We have heard the phrase “unprecedented times” far too often over the past year, and I refuse to use it anymore, but unfortunately, it remains applicable. There is no clear picture of what the world will look like when we return to the before times, but it will understandably be very different. Right now, however, the better equipped we are to handle our emotions and deal with change, the more capable we are to take on anything.
As students, we still have resources that are affordable and accessible that can help give us a leg up so that we deal with issues head-on now, rather than letting them build up. The best course of action is to take advantage of these and work around the barriers that limit us. The hardest part is taking the first step.
UBC Okanagan’s Health and Wellness centre provides Counselling and Mental Health resources. This includes booking an appointment with a counsellor, using UBC’s Student Assistance Program, COVID-19 specific mental health support, and other self help resources.
Kelowna crisis line is available 24/7: 1 888 353 2273.
Suicide crisis line: 1 800 784 2433
Vets4warriors: 1 855 838 8255