Christmas bulbs on a tree.

Christmas bulbs on a tree.

Mental illness and stress affect students every day, but as we approach the Christmas season, mental illness and stress seem to increase, especially in students.

“The cultural message, consumerism, and the expectation that we experience increased joy and general merriment during the Christmas season is the perfect setup for disappointment,” said Glenn Berg, a Family Resource Worker at Trochu Valley School.

It is not uncommon for the family resource worker to deal with students struggling with mental illness or stress.

As a family resource worker, Berg is often the first contact for children and adults who are coping with challenges related to parenting, mental health, poverty, abuse and neglect, addictions, relationships, and of course the very real stressor associated with the Christmas season.

When looking at college students ages 18-25, there has to be a realization that the students are going through a major transition and to some level they are becoming economic and psychologically independent from their family, said Berg.

These changes will no doubt have stress on the students, and would possibly also affect their school performance and self-care, said Berg.

The work load that schools give students tends to increase when the Christmas break approaches, more school work should be tackled and done during the class time at a reasonable pace instead of having piles of work due the week before Christmas, said Maggie Adolf, a first year student at VCAD (Vancouver College of Art and Design).

“Stress and mental illness should be taken seriously, and it should be a valid excuse to miss a class no matter what time of year it is,” said Adolf in an interview over the phone.

“There is good evidence that people experience a boost in mood when they reach out to help others and there are countless opportunities for volunteerism during the Christmas season,” said Berg.

Berg said that he would recommend first of all an increase in the awareness of the myths that accompany Christmas and its expectations surrounding it, it could help reduce the stress on individuals around this time of year.

Stress levels can increase when an individual is associated with alcohol and drug use, relationships, income and financial struggles, school performance, and self-care to name a few, said Berg.

“Mental illness is a concept used quite loosely,” said Berg.

In clinical terms, mental illness would be tied to a diagnoses outlined in the bible of psychiatry and psychology called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), said Berg.

When Berg works with students, he said he is not interested in identifying an “official” mental illness unless a specific behavior, disability, or dysfunction is intense and persistent.

He mostly works to build resilience and coping mechanisms, things that almost everyone possess to one degree or another.

“Mental illness has a huge social cost that effects our individual happiness, health and safety,” said Berg.

“During the lead up to Christmas I first get stressed about not having money to get gifts and I also get stressed because I need to study for exams,” said Caitlin McCulloch, a current grade 12 high school student.

Teachers usually plan to have tests on the last week of classes, and they always talk about the diploma every chance they get, said McCulloch.

If the teachers put less pressure on the tests they give it may help with students’ stress levels, said McCulloch

“I feel very pressured to do well on exams and it stresses me out,” said McCulloch.

McCulloch said that she finds it helpful when she talks to someone about feeling stressed, she said it makes her feel calmer and decreases her stress.

Colleges in Alberta usually have mental health services that students should not hesitate to take advantage of them, if a student is in need of help, they should reach out to a mental health professional, said Berg.

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