The start of a school year can bring excitement and joy for many post-secondary students — but for others, the experience can be daunting, and downright nerve-wracking at times. Between finalizing course selections, applying for extra-curricular positions, and catching up with friends, many students are so busy trying to get into the rhythm of university that they forget to take care of their mental health. Alexandra San Diego was one of these students.
She explained to me that during her first year of post-secondary, she struggled to stay afloat in her classes as she went through many transitions involving her friends and family. Eventually, her mental health affected her to the point where she found it too difficult to continue doing what she loved to do.
“You don’t know when you wake up in the morning whether you’re going to feel alright enough to get up. You just have to wait it out because it’s not a physical thing, it’s psychological,” Alexandra admitted to me.
Having felt depression since she was bullied in grade school, Alexandra finally decided to seek professional help through the University of Alberta’s Counselling & Clinical Services, and the Peer Support Centre. She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and began several rounds of therapy sessions with counselors.
Although this type of experience might seem daunting, Alexandra is quick to explain that “there’s no shame in going to a doctor if you have a problem with your mental health because once you lose control of it, you can’t fix it on your own.”
“There’s no shame in going to a doctor if you have a problem with your mental health because once you lose control of it, you can’t fix it on your own.”
With a proper diagnosis and professional treatment, Alexandra managed her symptoms, and became more aware of her mental health needs. As she puts it, “It takes effort to keep good mental health, just as if you would with creating a workout routine and diet plan to maintain your physical health.”
But this isn’t the end of Alexandra’s story. Her experience inspired her to join the Kids Help Phone Student Committee on campus. The club seemed like a perfect fit given it’s devotion to raising awareness of the national hotline to post-secondary students in the Capital Region.
For three years, Alexandra was the club’s Vice-President of Events, helping plan its flagship event each spring. At each event, Alexandra would take to the podium and share her personal mental health story with the audience.
“Being able to share my struggles publicly was scary for me at first, but a lot of people would come up to me after the event and thank me for empowering them.”
Wanting to take it step a further she became one of the original team members of the U of A’s Jack.org chapter. Jack.org was founded in 2010 as the legacy of Jack Windeler, a Queen’s University student who died by suicide. Since then, the organization has raised $1.5 million towards community initiatives on talking about mental health with students.
This past summer, Alexandra completed training for Jack Talks, a Jack.org program that brings students into local schools to share tools, tips, and experiences surrounding mental health, and how to deal with mental health problems. Following her training, Alexandra also made several appearances on local media including CTV, Global, and 630 CHED, where she had an opportunity to share her story on an even broader platform.
“Representation in the media can be powerful, and I hope if Asian parents and their kids see me talking about mental health, they will know it’s okay to discuss it because it is often a hush-hush topic for Asians,” Alexandra said.
Looking forward, Alexandra is humbled to be able to continue her mental health resolve in the hopes it will not only help students deal with their own mental health problems, but it will also educate them on how to help someone else going through a tough time.
As students hustle and bustle through the first few weeks of classes, Alexandra has a few words of advice: “Be aware of what may be coming to you, but also know there are many resources out there available to you. If it does not work out the first time, keep trying to find the help you need.”
If you or someone you know needs help, there are several on-campus resources available including Counselling & Clinical Services, the Peer Support Centre, the Sexual Assault Centre, and the Community Social Work Team. In case of an emergency, call the Distress Line 780–482–4357 or 911.