Published on UNews.ca on Nov. 26, 2012
In the last six weeks between three and six Mount Saint Vincent University students have taken excessive quantities of over-the-counter pain medication to cope with stress and anxiety.
“That’s too much, that’s way too much,” says Lynn Cashen Basso, housing co-ordinator at MSVU.
Cashen Basso has worked at MSVU as a housing coordinator for eight years and has worked at the university for 12 years. She says she is seeing an increase in, “not only the cutting,” but an “increase of readily available over-the counter stuff.”
Cashen Basso says she’s seeing an increase in large quantities of Tylenol and Advil usage by students who do not consider themselves suicidal, but rather see themselves in need of some help to cope.
They’re ”taking the pills to numb the pain and make everything go away,“ says Cashen Basso, adding that students don’t understand there are larger consequences to those actions.
Mental health issues such as anxiety, self-harm and pill over-dosing have been increasing dramatically over the past 10 years.
Students at MSVU have created a campaign to break the stigma around a wide variety of mental-health issues.
The Erase the Stigma campaign was created on a sunny Sunday afternoon, less than a month ago, when a group of student dons and residence advisers (RAs) came up with the idea of making a video. The project aims to let students know it’s OK to talk about depression — that it’s good to talk about self-harm, obsessive compulsive disorder, suicide and other tough issues affecting many students on campus.
The Erase the Stigma video launched last Wednesday on YouTube.
T-shirts and buttons were another aspect of the campaign. Participants each chose a tough topic they were passionate about and wore it on their T-shirt.
Alissa Ali, a student don on campus, chose depression.
Ali says campaigners wore the shirts around campus and it “created a lot of good energy around various topics.” One student who had suffered from depression told Ali that it was “comforting to know that people were taking action and spreading the word about mental health.”
Cashen Basso says she tries to educate students about the severe side-effects an overdose can have on their internal organs.
“The scary part for me is what happens when someone takes too much to cope.”
Todd MacDonald, a don at the university, has dealt first-hand with students in crisis. MacDonald says, “it can happen to a lot of students who you wouldn’t expect.” That’s part of the stigma, MacDonald says, “they think people are going to think they’re weird or are going to talk about them.”
MacDonald says there’s a lot of misinformation amongst students around pill usage. “Students don’t see the long-term affects of impulsively swallowing a half a bottle of Tylenol”, he says. It’s not until six hours later “they’re saying they’re not really trying to kill themselves, they’re trying to make themselves feel better.” MacDonald says the misinformation lies in the fact they’ve taken more than enough pills to kill themselves.
Cashen Basso supervises the RAs and the dons, and works as a close team with the counselling department. There are approximately 400 students in residence at MSVU and the ratio of RAs to students in residence is 1:24 or 1:21. She says, “they are the first point of contact for students and have developed strong bonds with them.”
Matt Morash, an RA, says wearing the shirts around campus, having the video and having people ask questions, has generated awareness. “Every conversation we had with someone was one they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Morash.
He says he encourages students to take walks or read a book, instead of heavy drinking and excess partying. It’s important he says, to “do your own maintenance before you get to that tipping point.”
Joey LeBlanc, an RA, says wearing their T-shirts on the same day the “I’m feeling” campaign kicked off, “helped to generate more chatter around difficult mental-health conversations. “The “I’m feeling” campaign is in it’s second year and is run through the student union.