Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Post 44: Mental Health Awareness at UVic

This lunch hour I attended the first of two round table talks on Mental Health Awareness, put on by UVic's Mental Health Task Force, and it was very, very good. This talk was about Anxiety: When The Worry Won't Stop; the second, on March 18th, from 12:00-1:30, will discuss Living, Learning, and Working with a Mental Health Diagnosis, in MacLaurin Room D 010.

We started off with a really refreshing and brief meditation session, where the fellow that led the session got us all to ground ourselves, and focus our attention to breathing. For some people, it was the first time they had ever done something like that, and it was great to hear how much of a difference it made to them! I don't usually like the sitting/standing still and meditating practices; I am a meditate-in-motion kind of person, and find a lot of calm when I exercise. This is also one of the main reasons why I prefer really active yoga like flow, or ashtanga, as opposed to the slower ones like yin or meditation yoga. But for the start of the workshop, I thought this was great!

Another wonderful evening on campus! My skyline, just before catching the bus home at the end the day. 
Reflecting on the talk, this post will highlight the people and resources that I am able to recall, as well as briefly discuss a couple of the themes that arose. I was amazed by how diverse a crowd the talk drew: there were a variety of resource folks present, and it was a nice mix of internal and external resources I didn't know UVic or the wider community had. The introductions went quite quickly, so I didn't manage to remember any names, but here are the resources that I remember.

UVic Counselling Services: they run a number of workshops on stress and anxiety and managing panic, through a variety of techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy, ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), and mindfulness practices. Here's a link for those workshops.  A number of their counsellors can also be visited with individual appointments as well.

UVic Human Resources also had a staff person there, one of their Work Life Consultants; he expressed that if you're someone who is dealing with a mental health illness, then HR can work with that individual to sort out adjustments that can be made so their work relationship at the University can still be a positive and productive one.

Dr. Lara Robinson, a professor from the Psychology department was there, and offered a number of important advice points, and shared that she takes on a couple of clients each semester at a reduced rate, addressing anxiety mental health issues. She also mentioned that the Psychology department has ongoing studies and research relating to wellness and anxiety, so send her an email if that sounds interesting at all. From what I remember, she mentioned that you could pair up with graduate student at a very reduced rate ($10 per session) to address ongoing problems.

Darryl (sp?) who works with/at the Anxiety Clinic in Victoria also had a very strong presence during the discussion, and it was very clear that he was well versed in the science of treating anxiety disorders and issues. He described anxiety issues as "bad mental habits," which is, I think, a very good way to think about anxiety.

Lovely bouquet i put together last year; my partner loves lilies, and I loved the bright colour contrast. :) 
One of the Residence Life student coordinators was there to share his perspective on both living with and dealing with anxiety himself, and training his crew of residence advisors to help provide resources and support to students. ResLife comes into contact with about 60-70% of the first year student population at UVic, so they have an immense impact with students. I spoke with him right after the talk and it sounds like ResLife is making a big effort to make sure students are aware of their resources when it comes to dealing with mental health, and that was really great to hear. Here's a link to some of the activities they put on in residence.

There was also a lovely gal from the Meditation Club on campus there! They put on regular meditation sessions to encourage and support students with decompressing from the stress of academia. And that is probably one of the main themes that arose during the session: the importance of grounding exercises, meditation, and bringing awareness to simple things like breathing. Darryl from the Anxiety Clinic mentioned that a panic attack can be triggered by shallow breathing, which we do when we're really stressed out. So the square breathing technique can be really helpful: breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 4 seconds, breathing out for 4 seconds, and holding the breath for another 4 seconds before inhaling again.

There were a number of people from different places across campus in the crowd, some faculty, some students, some grad students like myself, as well as parents that deal with anxiety, and parents with children who deal with anxiety. I was also very pleased to see great representation from Campus Security there! One of them mentioned that they are increasingly getting calls from students, faculty, and staff that deal with anxiety and mental health issues across campus. This reminds me that I recently read about the Nelson police chief wanting to establish a Mental Health Car like the one that Vancouver has, to better address the increasing calls they see there, which I think is a phenomenal idea!

Grumpy cat pal that I encountered on one of my evening walks in Oak Bay! :)
One of the most important themes of the discussion was around normalizing these kinds of mental health issues. A lot of people deal with them, and universities breed anxiety, even for people who don't otherwise have full blown disorders or may only have one panic attack, or deal with low-level anxiety that doesn't regularly interfere with their work or daily life. So when encountering someone who's dealing with anxiety, listening to them, admitting when we don't know much about what their experience is, or being authentic and sincere when empathizing with them, and referring them to places where they do have resources is probably one of the best things we can do.

As educators, I think one of the main things we can do to reduce the stigma of mental health issues is to encourage transparency around these issues. I know in one or two of my tutorials this semester I mentioned that if students are struggling with anything (mental health, personal life challenges, other health issues, or just bad scheduling, such as 3 assignments in 2 days), they can let me know and I will do my best to accommodate their need. I've had a couple students contact me with such requests, and it seems to have made a really big difference for them.

Talking about, acknowledging, and accepting in a non-judgmental way that people can suffer from and with these often invisible issues was another of the main themes that came from the discussion, whether it was a comment from a student who has been dealing with anxiety for years, or one of the resource people acknowledging that people build these behavioural habits, which become messy when avoidance and poor relationships and communication enter the mix, too.

Whew! This post has already become a lot longer than I'd thought, so I'll end it here! I'm glad I went to this workshop, and I now know a lot more about some of the anxiety resources we have across campus and from without, and I hope that should I be in a teaching position in the future, I'll remember to at least at one point during the semester (preferably at the beginning), mention to my students that if they're dealing with a mental health issue or other issues, they can let me know and I can try to accommodate the unexpected challenges that life throws our way sometimes.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Post 43: Student Health 101, Tutorial teaching, Writing Group, and Research Progress!!

Yesterday I got the most delightful email! I regularly read the Student Health 101 magazine that comes out every month, and saw some time last semester that they regularly solicit short student videos about a number of different topics, and so I decided that at some point I would try to learn how to put together a short video and submit something for a topic that I cared about and thought I had some useful advice. So a few weeks ago I submitted a little video about what I do to control my texting! As an introvert I LOVE texting, but try not to be on my phone all the time, so what I've found really helps me is to turn off the sound on my cell, which means that I don't get sound notifications every time I get a text, and that I reach for my phone when I am taking a purposeful break. Ultimately, it means fewer distractions, and is useful for things where the stakes are really high, like not driving and texting at the same time, or getting distracted by texts, then.

So, after spending about 3 hours learning how to use the iMovie program, and first, getting the length right, getting less nervous, rehearsing my little script so that I could concisely say what I wanted, and about 13 recordings later.... I submitted a video that I thought was not too bad. Certainly, I was tired and exasperated enough then to feel like throwing in the towel, and I thought that the sense of accomplishment from just sending it would do just great. So off it went!

AND YESTERDAY I FOUND OUT IT GOT CHOSEN!! That was really delightful! Now, I hope that there's a useful bit of advice out there for someone, or a couple someones, and now I have broken into my career as a video-journalist.

Okay, maybe not. But now I know a tiny bit about making a really short and simple video, which I didn't before I tried that.

Mini-salal (Gaultheria shallon) inside a stump along a trail through East Sooke Park!

My writing group and I also met yesterday afternoon, and it was such a productive afternoon!! We Skyped in our colleague Liz who's moved back to California at the beginning of this year; she's working on edits of her full thesis draft to get back to her supervisors, and wanted to get the first few chapters of her thesis back to them by the end of this week. She'd already gone through and addressed a lot of the simpler edits, and was working on some of the higher level (read: more challenging) edits when we checked in with her. The dynamic was admittedly a little bit different not having her in the room, but it was so nice to hear about how she was doing, and I think it really helped to reinforce her motivation to keep pushing through those edits, so I think it worked out for all of us. (I did check in with the others in the group this afternoon, and it sounds like it's working for us all.)

We did Pomodoros almost the entire afternoon, and I got so much done!! I wrote over 1500 words of new material: sections that have been floating in my head for the last couple weeks as I've been adjusting my energy budget to TAing (yesterady the 3 hours of teaching in a row didn't completely wipe me out, unlike the first week of tutorials, where I felt like I had run a marathon!). Between the new material, and going back for more edits to solidify a draft of my third chapter, it feels so good to see it coming together!

My third chapter is my methods chapter, and covers everything from the data collection, interview analysis and journaling, scope and limitations, and challenges. This will be, I think, the shortest of my thesis chapters, and has definitely been the most fun to write so far: it's had me reminiscing about my research trips, my wonderful participants, and the experiences I had when gathering that data. For example, there was a big theme of kindness of strangers for making those research trips work: when in Edmonton, I stayed with friends of my supervisor, a lovely couple, once of whom teaches at the University of Alberta. They hosted me while I visited the researchers there. When I was in Prince George, I was trying to find some milk for cereal the next morning, and I met Merlin, who gave me a lift down the highway to the nearest grocery store because it was on his way, and saved me a bunch of time. We still keep in touch!

And also while in Prince George, I spent a day driving logging roads with a wonderful woman and grad student there, Benita! We were enjoying the landscape and looking at forest regeneration and what shape the forests were taking about 15 years after the mountain pine beetle first passed through, and one of the numerous main areas where the outbreak began. It was a fantastic day, where we almost ran out of gas, and had to stop by a lodge to gets 15$ worth of gas from a canister. We took photos of the aspen forests and the lodgepole pines, and picnicked on the side of the Nechako River at someone's former hunting cabin; we had met the owner when we were stopped along the forestry service road to take photos, and the father and son came driving by and offered it to us as a lunch spot! That was a truly magical day.

Those research trips were a blast!

Signposts along the way. Great romp through the park. :)
In tutorial today, my students and I were discussing citation styles (in particular APA), and going over how to properly put together a citation, why we'd want to do that, and then a much larger discussion around how to assess the authoritativeness of a source, and understand the context of a particular article.

These kinds of critical thinking skills are sooooo important, and what myself and the other TAs has seen from the assignments was that students weren't quite researching deeply enough into where the voices of their sources were coming from, which includes everything from the funding people receive, the credentials they have, the journal/newspaper/magazine they are published in, the impact factor of the journal, and otherwise the bigger picture of locating and situating their voice in the discussion of [insert theme here].

They are bright students, I know they are, and I hope they'll use the information to their advantage; they need to show me that they can use the above outlined skills for their next assignment, so I am hopeful they will.
We hiked up a little island that you can't access when the tide is high. Beautiful teal waters in the little cove to see.