PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED BY KAREN SAVOY / SPUNTIK PHOTOGRAPHY
Many people find autumn a challenging transition for their mental health. This is often a result of seasonal changes like less sunlight, colder weather and the shift out of daylight saving time.
As we approach the colder months of the year and the fall semester picks up pace, it is important to be mindful and intentional about our mental health and well-being.
This past week was Thrive week at Laurier, which focuses on promoting mental well-being for all members of the Laurier community. It featured a mix of virtual wellness workshops and in-person activities on a range of topics including mindfulness and meditation, productivity, social media and mental health, resilience and self-care.
Ekaterini Dimakis, a third-year law and society student at Laurier Brantford, uses social media to engage in discussion about mental health.
“I find it crucial to initiate a conversation on mental health because it enables people to think about it further, whether about their loved ones’ well-being or their own,” she said. “The more we push for these discussions, the more embedded the ideas of being vulnerable, open and understanding become to us.”
For Dimakis, making room for conversations around mental health in different circles of our lives is a key part of fostering healthy communities and relationships.
“By starting the dialogue and setting an example, we are opening up the path for others to speak their minds as well,” she said.
“The mere possibility of somebody needing to hear these things” is what motivates Dimakis to be a vocal advocate for mental health, she says. “Sometimes, all it takes is a simple reminder that can stick [with someone] for the day to help them improve their mental health and well-being.”
Dimakis says as someone who enjoys the hours of sunlight and outdoor activities that summer offers, adjusting to the cold weather and the time change can be challenging for her mentally.
“The monotone nature of the outdoors during the winter negatively impacts my mental health,” Dimakis said, “as appreciating all that is out there for me to see and hear during the spring and summer helps me lift myself up on my bad days.”
Dimakis says the most helpful self-care habits she has picked up are meditation and yoga.
“[These practices] help me take a moment to pause, breathe, clear my mind and focus on myself and my thoughts.”
As far as managing school work she recommends sticking to a schedule, allotting time to work on specific tasks, recognizing your progress, and taking purposeful breaks.
“I let myself not be okay oftentimes, and I simply acknowledge the feeling without trying to fix it,” she said.
For Dimakis and many others, the current virtual learning environment has made it more difficult to take advantage of the mental health and wellness resources Laurier offers.
Remote counselling appointments are available by phone or video-call through the Student Wellness Centre. They also offer a variety of wellness education workshops, a peer-led support program, and many other services.
There may still be ways that Laurier can better support its students’ mental health needs during remote learning.
One idea Dimakis offers is more upfront acknowledgement by professors of the options and resources available to students struggling with their mental health.
“I think it would be crucial if professors could cover in their first day of classes a little three-minute talk about mental health and how they can make accommodations for that,” Dimakis said. “It is important to make sure students understand that even classrooms are a safe space for them.”
“If we actually discussed [mental health accommodations] in class, students would better understand that it is normal and okay to reach out for help academically.”
There are also opportunities for Laurier to approach mental health from an intersectional perspective, Dimakis adds, acknowledging the effort the university has shown recently in this area.
“[Laurier has done] a good job so far addressing the needs of students of colour during the uprisings of Black Lives Matter, the needs of Indigenous students when the residential schools’ mass graves became a popular topic of discussion, [and] of LGBTQ2S+ students during pride month,” said Dimakis.
The creation of more clubs and associations that bring students of similar identities and experiences together, Dimakis says, is one way Laurier can take an intersectional approach to further support students’ mental well-being.
Recommended practices to reduce the negative impacts seasonal changes may have on your mental health include spending time outside, exercising regularly, brightening your physical surroundings where possible, or using light therapy lamps.
This semester, Golden Hawks, remember to take care of yourselves and ask for help when you need it.