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We can answer that.

The podcast where we sit down with UCalgary professors, researchers and experts to get the answers to five questions submitted by you.


Episode 4: Mental Health in 2020

October 7, 2020

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone around the world, to say the least. A raging pandemic, political chaos, civil unrest and climate catastrophes are all contributing to major stress on mental health.

In this episode, we talk with Debbie Bruckner, senior director of student wellness at the University of Calgary's Student Wellness Centre. Ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10, Debbie discusses some of the problems and challenges we're all facing, warning signs to watch out for, and what we can do to take care of our mental wellness.  

Mike MacKinnon (MM): Welcome to We Can Answer That. I'm your host, Mike MacKinnon. Each week I sit down with a UCalgary expert to ask five listener provided questions and shed light on topics that matter to you. Today we're talking with Debbie Bruckner, who's the Senior Director of Student Wellness here at the University of Calgary. October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness about mental health issues around the globe. This year has been particularly eventful. There's the pandemic, you've seen protests against systemic racism in the streets, catastrophic hurricanes, forest fires, political chaos, and now students are being asked to go back to school and try to resume some kind of semblance of normalcy. Debbie, thanks for joining us.


Debbie Bruckner (DB): Pleasure, thank you.


MM: How do you think students here at UCalgary and in the broader community are affected by everything that's going on this year?


DB: Wow. Well, that's such a big question and so hard to just come up with a nice little pat answer. That would be great if we could figure out how to maneuver in this time. I think what makes it so difficult is... I mean, there's certain things we're all facing like the pandemic, like listening to the news about weather related events and the powerful images in regards to racism and anti-oppression. So we've all got a bit of a common experience, but then there's all these personal layers. There are, excuse me, our own vulnerabilities, and that might be personal, our family, illness, isolation, whatever kinds of maybe mental health issues we're dealing with. Then there's identity issues, genders, racial identity, ethnicity, what kind of identification we might have with our own spirituality. There's layers upon layers upon layers. Then we still have to get groceries, go to school, and students have to figure out how to be successful academically in this strange environment and unnavigable context.


MM: And so in that context, specifically related to the pandemic, what are some of the biggest mental health concerns?


DB: We're trying to figure out what those concerns are. We know there's isolation. We know people are disconnected from community. We have students studying from other provinces, from other countries. We have students from other countries who've come to Calgary to study, and they're isolated and disconnected from their families. We've got communities that are only connecting online. We know that when there are natural disasters, when there are pandemics, that there's implications financially and within one's personal life and how they connect with other people. So there are predictions that as time goes on, there will be an increase in anxiety and depression. We know that we're starting to see pockets of that already. Even the last time we did the National College Health Assessment Survey, which was 2019, that the respondents from University of Calgary indicated 27 per cent of them were suffering from anxiety and depression. So what happens now with the new conditions, the conditions we're unfamiliar with? So we expect that there will be an increase in students feeling disconnected and experiencing mental health conditions.


MM: And what are some of the warning signs to watch for that could indicate mental health struggles?


DB: There's the typical warning signs like a change in behavior, isolating oneself, even certain phrases. We often work with faculty and staff who will have a student hand in an assignment where there's some kinds of comments that are just concerning, or students who stop showing up. Now, some of those signs and symptoms are more difficult to even identifying now when most of the classes are online and life is more disconnected and more isolating. But it is those kinds of change in behavior and just not having interest in contact and connection with their surroundings.


MM: What can people do in their daily lives to help ease some of these mental and emotional strains?


DB: Well, I think it is about building resilience, enhancing resilience, and building... We call them protective factors. Protective factors are identifying with others, connecting with your spirituality, managing anxiety, talking to other people, and if there's some interactions within one's daily life, just to even relate how maneuvering is so much different now. But it is those connections. There was this amazing campaign over the summer where there were billboards that the Center for Suicide Prevention put up and it said, "Hi, Amir. How is it going?" Those simple outreaches, it doesn't have to be some kind of clinical intervention. It means each of us reaching out to one another to create a connection, to create a conversation that shows there's caring and compassion for one another, even in the midst of all of this.


MM: What kind of resources are available for people other than that, who think they might need some help?


DB: Certainly at the University of Calgary and Student Wellness Services, we have actually an enhanced mental health team, and we've worked on our collaborative care models. So students have the option of a virtual appointment, a telephone appointment. We can arrange in-person appointments, too. And there's quite a few webinars and workshops and groups, everything from mindfulness to managing anxiety and emotions. We've even got this weekly one on ask a counselor, and there's a couple of counselors there, and a number of students will join and just start asking questions. The other one is, sometimes it's easier to talk to another person who's had a similar experience, another student. So we have a peer listening program. So peers who are trained to talk to others, who've been in similar experiences, those are sometimes really helpful as well, those kinds of interactions.


MM: This has been We Can Answer That. We've been talking to Debbie Bruckner, Senior Director of Student Wellness at the University of Calgary about mental health challenges this year and what we can do to take care of ourselves and of each other. Before we go, I'd like to remind our campus community that our mental health supports continue to be available. For students, support can be accessed through Student Wellness Services. For after hour support or if you're in crisis, call Wood's Homes Community Support or the Distress Center. For staff, faculty and post-doctoral scholars, supports are available through Staff Wellness or by emailing Staff Wellness at ucalgary.ca. Additionally, Homewood Health is available and provides 24/7 mental health and crisis support. For domestic violence support, visit ucalgary.ca/sexual-violence-support. For drug and alcohol harm reduction supports, visit the Wellness Services website at ucalgary.ca/wellness-services. You can subscribe to We Can Answer That on Apple, Google, or Spotify, or by visiting ucalgary.ca/podcasts. Follow our social channels to see which one of our experts will be featured in our next episode and to send us questions you'd like them to answer. We Can Answer That is a production of the University of Calgary. Thanks to Debbie for joining us, and thank you for listening.


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