7 signs you might need help from a counsellor and where to find it
Finding your classroom, getting your library card, moving into residence, preparing for exams, managing your time, building new relationships and working a part-time job each sound reasonable on their own. But add them up and sometimes university life can start to feel overwhelming.
“It’s not uncommon for first-year students to feel like they’re struggling,” says Jill Green, a registered psychologist with Wellness and Psychological Services. “This is a time when you’re discovering, transitioning and growing. Some people minimize what they’re going through, but it’s not trivial at all. Going to university is a huge life change – one of the biggest you’ll ever make.”
So when you start to feel like things aren’t quite right – even if you can’t describe why – don’t wait to ask for help.
“Our job is to help you flourish, so we want you to come in and talk to us," says Jill. "Our services are free for all registered students and we have a team of fabulous and diverse people who want to help make university a good experience for you. They have a wealth of knowledge and can help you make good personal, academic and career decisions.”
Jill shared some of the most common concerns that bring first-year students to a counsellor.
1. I feel like I’m stuck on an emotional roller coaster
If you’re yo-yoing from excitement to fear, freedom to loneliness or happiness to worry, you’re not alone. “There is a whole host of emotions around being a first-year student,” says Jill “While you’re managing those, you might also be figuring out changes in your relationship with your parents or trying to keep a long-distance relationship alive. If any of these things start to feel like too much, come in and we can figure it out together.”
2. I had no idea this was going to be so much work
Moving from high school or a full-time job to university can be a shock. “Students can find themselves overwhelmed with juggling their university workload and the rest of their life,” says Jill. “Sometimes it’s a result of time management, procrastination or test anxiety, but we can help you figure out what the issues are and how to address them. Navigating the system and finding your way through university is a skill that takes time to learn.”
3. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor/engineer/artist/nurse, but now I’m not so sure
Having second thoughts is normal. Just because you’ve known you wanted to be an engineer since you built your first block tower or a nurse after putting a bandage on your baby sister's scraped knee doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind.
“It’s not unusual for students to have a big – and sometimes scary – aha moment and realize that maybe the program they’re in isn’t the place for them,” says Jill. “There’s no shame in realizing that something isn’t a good fit.”
Sometimes expectations and demands from family about getting a certain degree, achieving a certain grade or being on a certain team don’t match with what you want your university experience to be.
Jill says putting everything on the table and exploring it can help. “We spend a lot of time working with students on relationships and helping them set boundaries and find their own voices as adults.”
4. Things aren’t feeling so good, but do I really need to see a counsellor?
Sometimes there’s a fine line between feeling like everything is kind of okay and a full-blown crisis.
“Don’t worry about whether or not you should be here, we’ll look at your situation together and make that decision. If you even have a sense that you want to talk to someone, that’s exactly when you should come in and see us.”
5. I think I need to talk to someone, but I can’t stand the thought of people judging me
Nobody needs to know why you’re here. Really. And you’re not alone – more than 1,100 students saw a counsellor last year.
And counselling services are confidential. That means your parents, partners and professors can’t call and get information about you. “The information you share is your information and it stays that way,” says Jill. “You don’t need parental consent, our files are separate from your academic transcripts and nobody is going to have access to what you say.”
6. I want to appeal a grade, but I have no idea where to start
Counsellors can help you navigate university policy and look at your options and resources around appeals. “As a first-year student it can be hard to find, read and make sense of university policies,” says Jill. "We can show you how to request an appeal, what the process looks like and what the deadlines are.”
7. Okay, I’ve decided I need help. How long am I going to have to wait?
Normally, you can see a counsellor on the same day, explains Jill. “We have initial consultations every day of the week – twice on most days – that are short 20- to 30-minute conversations about what’s happening with you, what you hope to get out of counselling and if it’s a good fit for you. We can give you a sense of how we can help you right away, provide resources and information and book a future appointment time.”
To find out the next initial consultation time, stop by one of the Wellness and Psychological Services offices on the City Centre Campus, Centre for the Arts and Communications or Alberta College Campus. Or you can always call first.
Looking for more advice?
Check out the stories in our First-Year Student Primer series:
This story is part of Changing Minds: Creating a healthy campus – an initiative that makes mental health a priority. The program connects training opportunities, support services, resources and stories from real people across the MacEwan University community.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.