Ok, let’s face it. Though it’s an exciting and stimulating place to be, being in graduate school isn’t always easy. Firstly there’s the academic stress: research to do, a thesis to write, and the responsibilities that come with being a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant, along with the pressures of publishing and presenting at conferences. Then there’s the personal life stuff: maintaining a balanced social life and healthy interpersonal relationships.
But if stressed out and anxious have become your standard mode of operating, it may be time to get help. The first place to check in is with Health, Counselling and Disability Services. There, you can meet one-on-one with a counsellor with whom you can talk through the things that are bogging you down. Free for Queen’s students, counselling can help give you the perspective you need.
“We can’t say that there is a standard profile of someone who uses Counselling Services,” says Dr. Mike Condra, the director of Health, Counselling and Disability Services. Dr. Condra says that Counselling services is available to help people who are in “distress of any type.”
He does, however, divide stress into different types explaining that some people come in suffering from what he calls “developmental stress”, which includes the “transitional stuff” (like starting in a new program, being away from home, or adjusting to life as a graduate student). Other people may be suffering the effects of “imposter syndrome” -- which he explains as “a fear that someone from your faculty will tap you on the shoulder and say ‘I’m sorry, we mistook you for someone else, you aren’t supposed to be here.”
But Dr. Condra, who did his graduate degree at Queen’s (class of ’82), says there are lots of other reasons for seeing a counsellor. “Your relationship went belly up, or to work on relationship distress with your parents. Or sometimes the distress is in the mental health area -- anxiety, depression, significant low mood. We see a number of people each year who have a significant mental health problem.”
And that’s not so surprising. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, as many as 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime -- with as many as eight per cent experiencing a major depression at some point in their lives.
Getting professional help now is the best way to stay in top academic form. “It’s impossible to be a good student if you’re sleep deprived or depressed,” says Dr. Condra, who is quick to point out that human distress has nothing to do with intellect. “Over the years your training has made you so sophisticated intellectually,” he says of graduate students, “but students aren’t always as aware of the emotional or social sides of their lives, and sometimes that can create difficulty.” And then there’s the over thinking. “We can over think anything,” laughs Dr. Condra. “We have to learn to let go.”
Dr. Condra says some problems can be dealt with in as few as three or four sessions with a counsellor. Situations that are more severe may require meetings where counsellors could use techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to retrain negative thinking patterns.
“We also do a lot of work with students around thesis writing. We have counsellors who can help students in the process of writing a thesis to get unstuck, set goals, and motivate themselves.”
For more information about Counselling Services at Queen’s, visit http://www.queensu.ca/hcds, or stop in for a visit. Health, Counselling and Disability Services is located in the LaSalle building at 146 Stuart Street.