Nearly 70% of university students battle loneliness during school year, survey says

September 12, 2016 Leave a comment

National survey found students felt ‘very lonely’ and ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function’

By Teghan Beaudette, CBC News Posted: Sep 09, 2016 4:00 AM CTLast Updated: Sep 09, 2016 4:00 AM CT

A new study of Canadian university students found more than 66 per cent reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year.

A new study of Canadian university students found more than 66 per cent reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year.

As university classes start up this week, officials are already working hard to stave off a major contributor to poor mental health among students — loneliness.

A new study of Canadian university students found more than 66 per cent reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year.

And the problem was worse for female students, with nearly 70 per cent feeling very lonely at least once in the last year, compared with male students at 59 per cent.

More than 43,000 students were surveyed for the National College Health Assessment.

It found about 30 per cent of students “felt very lonely” within the last two weeks.

The study also found nearly half of the students surveyed felt debilitatingly depressed in the past year.

44 per cent said they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

It’s something counsellors on Winnipeg campuses are well aware of.

David Ness, director of student counselling at the University of Manitoba, said he expects to see students struggling with loneliness come into the counselling centre every year.

“They’re on a campus with 30,000 students, several thousand employees — there’s all these people around, but you still feel lonely,” Ness said. “You have to have the individual skills to connect with someone.”

He said it seems to be worse after the Thanksgiving break, and he thinks the increasing social anxiety rate in youth is a contributor. He also thinks electronic devices are contributing to students having difficulty making connections.

Ness recommends joining student groups or reaching out to counsellors or student mentors.

‘You can feel really isolated’

At the University of Winnipeg, the student association is in the middle of a week of events to try to get students to connect before things get really busy.

“It’s still a scary place for a lot of students. Your first year coming here, you can feel really isolated,” said Kevin Settee, the student association’s president. “You’re in classrooms, then you have to go home and study, and you’ve got to do your research and write your papers, and usually a lot of that happens in isolation.… It can get lonely.”

Students from Northern Manitoba or out of province are often leaving their family and friends for the first time, Settee said.

David Ness, University of Manitoba

David Ness is the head of counselling services at the University of Manitoba. He says every year, students come in struggling with loneliness on campus. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Some Canadian universities are tackling loneliness directly and not just as a contributor to poor mental health among students. The University of Calgary has developed resources for lonely students to let them know they’re not alone and where and how they can get help.

Jan Byrd, who directs the University of Winnipeg’s wellness and student life program, said the university has first year students move into dorms a week early to help them adjust.

“We do quite a few things differently to welcome our first year students and try and alleviate that loneliness,” said Byrd, pointing to activities like group movie nights, bowling, city tours and appointed peer mentors.

“We know that students are more likely to stay here and persist and do well in their studies if they have a network of supports, so we try and create many opportunities so people can make a network and make connections on campus so that things don’t hit a crisis,” she said.

The university doesn’t want to “medicalize loneliness” because, Byrd said, it’s a perfectly normal feeling, but “there are those students for whom things don’t get better.”

When that’s the case, the university has psychiatrists and nurses on staff to help.

Ness, Settee and Byrd all recommended joining student groups as a way to stave off loneliness. The U of W had more than 70 groups last year, and the University of Manitoba tracks extracurriculars and puts them on students’ transcripts as an incentive to participate.

Ness said counsellors can help students develop coping skills and figure out exactly what is causing them to feel bad.

Ness and Byrd said students should reach out before it reaches a crisis point.

In the past two years, the University of Winnipeg has increased counselling services on campus and changed the student health care program to include more money for mental health services.

Finding Direction at the Top of a Mountain

March 4, 2016 Leave a comment

mountains_960One of our Engineering students who is taking a year off contacted our office about his next steps for his education.  During our interactions he mentioned that he has been doing some personal exploration.  I thought that his story might resonate with other students.  You can check out another of David Zhang’s posts here.

The Calgary Hiking Club – by David Zhang

The weather forecast was terrible. Well the forecasting wasn’t bad but the actual weather — not so much. Thunderstorms in Banff. I had organized our first hike of the summer and it was the morning of. Five confirmed attendants, supposedly. It was 5 minutes passed meetup time. My calls were returned with voicemails.

Luckily, one of them did show up. “You’re a troll”, he muttered, shaking the rain out of his hair. As troll as it was, we trekked on our way through the summer thunder to our hike. Our two-man hike.

At arrival, we were pleasantly surprised. The rain had settled the dust and crisp clean taste of the dew-covered forest lingered with every breath. Birds brimmed the trees, singing and celebrating the passing of the storm. We joined them, immersing ourselves in nature; awe stricken by its beauty, our daily worries seemed to disappear.

The best part: the scenery was silently serene; there were those who made a logical decision to stay home, and there were us.

After a good 10 miles’ up’n’down, I was absolutely exhausted. It was tough. It was grueling. It was amazing.

I loved every minute of it. Even though 3 of our initially planned party didn’t show up, it made me realize that I didn’t need to depend on others for my plans; I was the creator of my happiness. Through a good 9 hours of talking, laughing, singing, and sweating, we began the legacy of the Calgary Hiking Club.

Co-founded by two people, the CHC was originally a joke alias to keep our motivation for proactivity. Our philosophy was “Just do it!”. Might sound familiar but I assure you it’s 100% original. Whenever someone came up with an idea, it was accepted immediately — unconditionally. It was circumstance that had given us the chance to reap our first adventure, and it would be initiative that would keep us going for the next.

Over the summer, we had a few friends come visit and took them along the CHC “Tour de Banff”. With each hike, the club grew. Not necessarily in size, but for my friend and I, the summits had made us stronger. We were eager to embark on new journeys and face new challenges; getting out of our comfort zone began to not feel so uncomfortable.

In four months, our population grew from a measly 2 to a pretty outstanding 5 (yeah I know, not to brag or anything…). Although we weren’t selective in club members, we didn’t chase people to join it. This wasn’t some kind of pyramid scheme or resume builder, this was something for ourselves. Besides, any members that needed to be “chased down” were probably not worthy of the membership. Following the motto, the CHC were full of people with initiative. Those who joined would not be exceptions. When we planned something, there were no maybe’s. Everyone was full of vigor and passion. It wasn’t just about the exercise; there was something about climbing mountains that invigorated us. We wanted to do things. To climb greater heights. To live better lives.


I was an all-star in high school. I was smart, athletic, and popular. I got 2310 on my SATs, won the Canadian Junior Chess Championship, and could bench 205lb in grade 11. I felt like I was on top of the world, with unlimited potential to effervesce. The sky wasn’t even the limit. I was invincible.

However, the past two years of my life have proven otherwise. Once I stepped into university, my slate was wiped clean. Since I moved out of the province for school, I knew no one, and although I didn’t care too much about popularity, in a school with so many people that want to fit in, it’s hard to make real relationships. It felt like I had to choose between putting on a mask to socialize with everyone and taking it off to meet people who wanted to build something genuine.

I bet you’re thinking, Dude, you just gotta’ balance it bro, and don’t get me wrong, I thought so too. In fact, I did try to balance the social aspects of my social life, but it didn’t work. Sure I met a lot of people and found a few good friends here and there, but I couldn’t help but think of how it was like in high school. I didn’t have to try, friends came naturally; everything was authentic — it was just so easy.

In addition, even though I had good grades, the curriculum didn’t stimulate me and the lifestyle was hard for me to adapt to. I began drifting away from my goals and used school as an excuse for doing nothing productive in my time. The enthalpy between high school me and 2nd year me could have saved America two months of gas bills. I began spending all my time thinking about how badly I was wasting it. Along with a heavy backpack of personal issues, I fell down to rock bottom and into a pit of depression. I wanted help, but all I got from psychiatrists were prescriptions for SSRIs and an $80 fine.

So I put it on myself.

I tried to bring myself back up. I told myself that I would get back to where I used to stand. I would climb back up the mountain and reach the summit that I had once conquered before. But this was a fallacious mentality. Instead of pursuing new goals, I spent the past two years chasing after my past successes. With eyes glued to the back of my head, never once did I try to move forward.

It was through the simple joy of going out for hikes that began to change my perspective. By pushing myself out of complacency and into the wilderness, I began to move forward in directions I had never seen before. Just the actions of initiating and committing have given me the conviction to do things I would never have imagined myself doing 4 months ago. I have set goals and put plans in action. I used to wake up at 1PM and spend my day waiting to sleep. Now, I don’t even think I have time to sleep! There are too many things I want to do.

As mentioned before, the CHC is really just an alias. The conception of the club was through a hiking trip, but the real beginning of it all was when we took the dive to shoulder the thunderstorm and just do it. While I’d like to say something like “The CHC isn’t just about climbing mountains, we’re about reaching greater heights! lol!”, the CHC is all about climbing mountains! However, those mountains don’t have to be in the shape of a big earthly mound. Many of them, in fact, aren’t physical ones. In our everyday lives, even the smallest hurdles can impede us from going forward. I’d tell myself that it’s too hot outside to go for a run. I’d give excuses to avoid, push, and procrastinate. I’d say tomorrow instead of today. It’s easy to get comfortable, and that’s exactly where we were when we started.

When we began hiking, we proved to ourselves that any mountain can be overcome with guts and initiative. As long as there is a start, there can be a finish.

Through blood and sweat, the CHC has shown me the power of simply doing things. When life is caving in on you, you either squish, or you push back. I have been bruised, broken, and have fallen down one of the highest points in my life.

Maybe I’ll never climb back up the mountain I once stood upon, but that’s okay, because the next one is right up ahead.

Categories: Career Development

Sustainable Motivation and the Power of Passion

February 26, 2016 2 comments

a-passion-your-life-passion-in-lifeMerriam-Webster dictionary defines Motivation as “a force or influence that causes someone to do something”. However, the power of motivation and its ability to be sustained is much more complex and slightly different for each individual. Sustainable motivation is one of the greatest factors in one’s ability to achieve a goal or complete a task. So, if you are finding yourself struggling to get something done, drained by the process, distracted, disinterested . . . it is likely because you have not tapped into a sustainable motivation for doing what you are doing.

I see brilliant and competent students struggle daily to achieve at even a moderate level. Part of the problem is that we often frame our motivation for doing something in extrinsic terms (coming from outside of us). I want to complete this degree because I have been told that it will most likely result in stable employment. I need to complete this course because it is a required course for this degree. I need to do well on this exam so that I can get a good grade in this course, so that I can complete my degree and gain employment. As Thomas Koballa states in his article “Framework for the Affective Domain in Science Education” “Students with performance goals often are preoccupied with gaining social status, pleasing teachers, and avoiding “extra” work.”

Wow, no wonder if those are your motivations that you are having trouble finding the energy to complete the tasks necessary. The trouble here is that what is referred to as the affective domain is not factoring in to this equation. The affective domain is that part of our existence that arises out of emotions, feelings, values, and opinions. It is the part of us that evokes passion; it is an intrinsic motivator. Rather than attempting to motivate yourself towards achieving an extrinsic goal, like doing well in a course so that you can progress in your degree, I suggest framing your goals in a way that taps into your affective domain. Why do you care about what you are doing? Think about the context, the potential for impact, how it aligns with your skills and interests.

The energy to keep going despite hardships, to push through even with conflicting priorities and complex challenges needs to come from within. So if you are having trouble relating on an emotional level and seeing the purpose of what you are doing, take some time to explore that. Talk to others that are passionate, go and speak to your instructor about the course material. I can guarantee that your professors have passion for their subject matter as they have likely dedicated a large portion of their lives to the study of it.

See your degree as more than a sequence of equations, principles, theories and facts that need to be memorized and mastered, see it as a pursuit of knowledge that can have an impact on your life and the lives of others. No matter what you study, bring your values, opinions, feelings and passions into the subject matter. In doing this, you will be far more likely to want to get out of bed in the morning, go to class and learn.

Failing Successfully

January 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Working in the Faculty of Engineering, most of our new students have had very little exposure to failure and potentially no exposure, whatsoever, to academic failure. While at first this may seem to be a good thing, the reality is that failure is one of the most valuable experiences we can have in life.

If you think about it, how did you learn to walk, skate, swim, ride a bike, hit a ball? Likely by failing first, and failing many times and only then figuring out how to succeed. When I think about the things that I have learned in my life, just about all of them, and certainly the lessons that stick with me the most, are the ones that came through failure: better ways to approach conflict, how to listen with empathy, how to forgive, accept a complement, be gracious, cook a good meal, follow through on a task, create something new or innovative, challenge a concept or opinion effectively, develop healthy eating and sleeping habits. While, for the most part, I am good at these things now, I certainly was not at one point.

There have been many moments where I have been ashamed, embarrassed, felt terrible for what I had done, known that I could do better, desperately wanted to change, improve, get better, succeed. . .

So rather than taking those moments and converting them into self-ridicule, blame and low self-esteem, the key has been to figure out how to fail successfully. How do I harness the emotion that has come out of those failures into something that results in motivation, resilience and the ability to pick myself up and keep going? The ability to do this is what makes failing so powerful. If we can transform a failure into an impactful lesson on what not to do, we get significantly closer to success.

Does this mean that I am telling our students to get out there and fail? YES, that is exactly what I am saying, as nothing great has been accomplished without failure. If you have not failed, then you have likely not pushed yourself hard enough, have not taken on a challenge, have not been creative, innovative and confident enough. If you think about the people that have contributed most to our world, those that likely you admire and look up to, they are not the people that have never made a mistake, they are the ones that have failed the most, but kept going.

There are many famous quotes about failure, but the one that I think resonates the most for me when I think about our students is one from Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”  I frequently say to students that they are not only in university to learn about the properties of materials, statics, discrete math, and programming; they are here to learn how to become the functional, happy, and successful adult versions of themselves. To do that, they will need to encounter their limits, brush themselves off, learn to re-calibrate and keep going.

So when you get that first failing grade, fumble in a presentation, fight with your roommate over unwashed dishes, do something you regret when out with your friends, disappoint your parents, yourself, and others . . . don’t fret for too long. Recognize that failure presents you with a phenomenal opportunity for growth and development that simple success never provides. For out of great risk, and abundant mistakes, come the best opportunities for innovation and excellence. The reality is that so longs as you keep trying, you have not failed, you just haven’t succeed YET. As Thomas Edison, put it so well, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Puppy and Play Therapy

December 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Mindfulness and stress reduction do not need to be hard.  Today we showed our Engineering students some simple ways to unwind, de-stress

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Puppy Therapy!!

and find some balance and calm during exam time.

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Colouring

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Puzzles and Lego

Shifting from Distress to De-Stress

November 19, 2015 Leave a comment

EXAM-STRESS

As we move from the rush of midterms, labs, and assignments into final exams I see an increasing number of students that are suffering from acute anxiety, stress, and a full spectrum of other ailments and viruses. It breaks my heart to see such highly capable and accomplished young people struggling with sleep disorders, headaches, anxiety, panic, substance dependency, and other destructive symptoms and behaviours.

Working now in an Engineering Faculty, I remind my students that they are not here just to learn the technical and theoretical, but to learn how to function as professional adults in a world filled with deadlines, pressure and high expectations. Since our admissions criteria is so very high, there is no doubt that these students have the intellectual capacity to succeed; what ends up putting students at the greatest risk is how effectively or ineffectively they manage their stress response.

What happens with some students is constant worry, and pressure moves from being an acute stressor to a chronic way of being. Worry and anxiety become a constant thought pattern and the impact of that leads to low energy levels, sleep issues, over and under-eating, depression, and massive self-doubt. If these thoughts go unchecked the body responds as if it is at real risk of harm “fight or flight” and this causes the release of stress hormones, that result in a deepening of the problems. This cycle then repeats and repeats until the student starts to feel as though he/she can no longer function.

As final exams draw near, I want to remind students of the importance of recognizing this cycle and intentionally responding with simple actions to counter the bodies stress response. When you notice yourself feeling a stress response, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Just by bringing attention to your breathing and focusing on a slow out-breath you can reverse some of your body’s automatic responses to stress and feel calm again.

Rather than responding to the stress and pressure of exams by working longer and harder at studying, work smarter and shorter. Build into your exam routine time for play, exercise and sleep. To claim that you don’t have time for these activities will only contribute to your stress, will cause you to be less able to focus and will make it seem like you need to study longer, when really what you need most is a break. The impact of stress activation is that it shuts down your prefrontal cortex and makes it harder for you to think clearly. So take the time to engage in whatever activities help you to feel a sense of calm and well-being.

Lastly, if you are struggling to manage your stress reach out for help. Visit your academic counselling office and get referred to campus and community services that can help you.

The stress and anxiety that you are feeling is not a sign of weakness, if anything, the smartest and most capable people I know are often the ones that struggle the most with these things. We need to talk openly about it and realize that healthy mindfulness practices are as important as healthy eating, not smoking, exercise, and sleep.

So during this busy and stressful time of year make and take the time to care for yourself, body, mind, and soul.

A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment

tired_at_workAlthough I frequently guide students towards careers that will enable them to do something that they love and are passionate about, this article makes an excellent point that it is not always as easy as “do what you love” nor should it be.

By GORDON MARINO
May 17, 2014
Student advisees often come to my office, rubbing their hands together, furrowing their brows and asking me to walk along with them as they ponder life after graduation. Just the other day, a sophomore made an appointment because he was worrying about whether he should become a doctor or a philosophy professor. A few minutes later, he nervously confessed that he had also thought of giving stand-up comedy a whirl.

As an occupational counselor, my kneejerk reaction has always been, “What are you most passionate about?” Sometimes I‘d even go into a sermonette about how it is important to distinguish between what we think we are supposed to love and what we really love.
But is “do what you love” wisdom or malarkey?

In a much discussed article in Jacobin magazine early this year, the writer Miya Tokumitsu argued that the “do what you love” ethos so ubiquitous in our culture is in fact elitist because it degrades work that is not done from love. It also ignores the idea that work itself possesses an inherent value, and most importantly, severs the traditional connection between work, talent and duty.

When I am off campus and informally counseling economically challenged kids in Northfield, Minn., a city of about 20,000, the theme is not “do what you love.” Many of them are used to delivering papers at 5 a.m., slinging shingles all day or loading trucks all night. They are accustomed to doing whatever they need to do to help out their families. For them, the notion of doing what you love or find meaningful is not the idea that comes first to mind; nor should it. We put our heads together and consider, “What are you best at doing?” or “What job would most improve your family’s prospects?” Maybe being licensed as a welder or electrician? Maybe the military? Passion and meaning may enter into the mix of our chats with the understanding that they sharpen your focus and make you more successful.

My father didn’t do what he loved. He labored at a job he detested so that he could send his children to college. Was he just unenlightened and mistaken to put the well-being of others above his own personal interests? It might be argued that his idea of self-fulfillment was taking care of his family, but again, like so many other less than fortunate ones, he hated his work but gritted his teeth and did it well.

It could, I suppose, be argued that my father turned necessity into a virtue, or that taking the best care you can of your family is really a form of self-service. But getting outside yourself enough to put your own passions aside for the benefit of a larger circle, be it family or society, does not come naturally to everyone.
Not all take this path. You may know the tale of Dr. John Kitchin, a.k.a. Slomo, who quit his medical practice for his true passion — skating along the boardwalk of San Diego’s Pacific Beach. But is it ethical for the doctor to put away his stethoscope and lace up his skates?

Thinkers as profound as Kant have grappled with this question. In the old days, before the death of God, the faithful believed that their talents were gifts from on high, which they were duty-bound to use in service to others. In his treatise on ethics, “The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,” Kant ponders: Suppose a man “finds in himself a talent which might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than take pains in enlarging his happy natural capacities.” Should he?
Kant huffs, no — one cannot possibly will that letting one’s talents rust for the sake of pleasure should be a universal law of nature. “[A]s a rational being,” he writes, “he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed, since they serve him, and have been given him, for all sorts of purposes.” To Kant, it would be irrational to will a world that abided by the law “do what you love.”

Perhaps, unlike Kant, you do not believe that the universe is swimming with purposes. Then is “do what you love,” or “do what you find most meaningful” the first and last commandment? Not necessarily.

The faith that my likes and dislikes or our sense of meaning alone should decide what I do is part and parcel with the gospel of self-fulfillment. Philosophy has always been right to instruct that we can be as mistaken about our views on happiness as anything else. The same holds for the related notion of self-fulfillment. Suppose that true self-fulfillment comes in the form of developing into “a mature human being.” This is of course not to claim that we ought to avoid work that we love doing just because we love doing it. That would be absurd. For some, a happy harmony exists or develops in which they find pleasure in using their talents in a responsible, other-oriented way.

The universally recognized paragons of humanity — the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings — did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning. They did — like my father and some of those kids from town — what they felt they had to do.

Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires.

Perhaps you relish running marathons. Perhaps you even think of your exercise regimen as a form of self-improvement. But if your “something higher” is, say, justice and equality, those ideals might behoove you to delegate some of the many hours spent pounding the track on tutoring kids at the youth center. Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.

Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College and the editor of “The Quotable Kierkegaard.”
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This post was published on The Opinionator

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