March 7, 2011
Campus ministers help students dealing with stress and depression.

Campus ministers help students dealing with stress and depression.

VANESSA SANTILLI
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO — A cross-border study has found that one in four students on North American university campuses show signs of depression - a figure that comes as no surprise to those who work with students.

The study, published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry at the end of January, looked at more than 1,600 students at the University of British Columbia, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Washington. Researchers surveyed students visiting campus health centres for mostly physical reasons on a variety of questions about their mood and outlook for the future. The study also found that one in 10 students had recently thought about suicide.

Sister Susan Glaab, campus minister at King's University College in London, Ont., said there are a number of reasons why students today may be showing increased signs of depression.

"I think sometimes there's a loss of meaning or purpose in life," said Glaab. "Sometimes as students, it can be hard to see the final goal or the end result."

Despite various social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, Glaab said she still sees many students who feel disconnected and isolated.

"I think that can be a huge contributor to depression," she said. "That sense of feeling isolated can have a huge impact on us."

Marilyn Elphick, director of campus ministry at Toronto's University of St. Michael's College, said that new-found doubt can also play a role, especially among those with a religious upbringing.

QUESTIONING FAITH

"One issue university students face when they come is the fact that they're questioning their relationship with God - especially if they're in a secular university," she said. "It's a very confusing time and (university) can be a very confusing place."

But this is where campus ministry can help, said Elphick, as campus ministers are trained to help students dealing with these issues.

And faith itself is an important part of working through problems, she said.

"You can use your faith because we know from our experience of Jesus that we can enter into that suffering . . . and to have the faith that things are going to get better."

On their own time, Glaab recommends students listen to soothing music, read Scripture and keep a daily journal in order to deal with these pressures.

"Journaling is a form of prayer."

"I've had students who get a little book and they write every day — sometimes before they start the day or at the end of the day — they just pour out their hearts. It helps to lessen the anxiety."

Formatting your entry so that it reads as a letter to God with a prayer at the end thanking God for listening can be very cathartic, she said.

"The important thing about studies like this is they point out that you have to pay attention to your mental health when you go to university," said Dr. Miriam Kaufman, an adolescent health specialist at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children and pediatrics professor at the University of Toronto.

On a physical level, Kaufman said it's important for students to exercise, eat nutritious foods and get enough sleep. As well, don't overlook the fact that, simply put, life is stressful for young people.

MAJOR COMPETITION

"It's harder today to get into the university of your choice and the program you want," she said. "There's a lot of competition in university - especially if you're hoping to go on to more school after that."

Students also have to take the time to look after the soul, said Glaab.

"We're physical beings but we're also spiritual beings so we have to look after the outside of the body, but then we have to look after the inside of the body," said Glaab.

Dr. Su Ting-Teo, director of student health and wellness at Toronto's Ryerson University, said in order to deal with mental health issues it's important students make time for supportive relationships and to develop non-material values such as friendship and self-esteem.