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Neuroplasticity

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

nNeuroplasticitynoun

mass noun

  • The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.

The idea that our minds are not just set, unchangeable, static, makes so much feel possible.  I have grown up in a world that encourages us to believe that talents and abilities are innate, that we are “gifted” or “a natural”.  Further, if we have to work too hard at something it is an indication that we are not naturally gifted in that area and therefore are unlikely to every become really good at it.

Josh Waitzkin states, “The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability we will be brittle in the face of adversity.”  I agree entirely with this statement and see it play out on a daily basis with the students that I council.  If we believe that struggle and effort are indicative of inability, then we will give up when things get hard.  Instead, if we believe as Rick Hanson asserts, that “Failure is the most essential step to success” then we will be able to embrace adversity as a necessary part of growth.

Furthermore, if we use our mind to change our brain, to change our mind for the better, then we will be able to harness our full potential and become resilient when we face challenges.  Hanson, refers to this sort of thinking as self-directed neuroplasticity.  This concept feels very liberating and empowering to me as it allows us to defy what seems to come naturally and instead to master, whatever we set our minds to – quite literally.

I have started talking with students about neuroplasticity.  It is interesting to observe how few of them have heard of this and how many of them hold onto the belief that struggle and effort are a sign of inability and weakness.  Having this dialogue with students I have seen an instant impact on their ability to look at the next week of exams: the struggles, the doubts, the hard-work that lies immediately in front of them, and to see it not as an exercise in futility and self-doubt, but instead as an opportunity to transform their brain, in meaningful ways.  To literally form new neural connections, and pathways, to impact the chemistry, structure and function of their brain in a way that sets them up better for learning, success, and resilience.

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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.

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