Did you know that half of Canadians experience mental health issues before they turn 40? This coming week, October 3rd to October 9th, is Mental Health Week. This is a time to raise awareness about mental illness and support those around us who are struggling. Use this week to reflect on how you've been feeling this semester and take action or seek help if you need to.
In this week's blog post, we'll talk about the ways the outdoors can help your mental health, the resources you can access in and out of Concordia, and some of your stories about how being outside has made you feel better. And remember, if you're having a hard time, you can always access the resources below or talk to a friend about how you're feeling.
How Can the Outdoors Help My Mental Health?
Being outside isn't just fun (but it's pretty fun). Science is on our side, too. Many people can feel the positive effects of being outdoors, and the statistics below back them up. Although going outside isn't a solution to every problem, there's no doubt it can help you feel better and take a break from feeling cooped up, whether that be indoors or in your own head.
Your muscle tension, blood pressure, and brain activity can all improve when you spend time outside, relieving stress and making you feel better.
People act nicer and are more likely to help others if they're exposed to nature (yes, there's a real study that confirms it).
Being in nature helps symptoms of ADHD.
Having schools with green spaces or near nature actually helps cognitive development (and our brains aren't fully formed until we're 25!).
The outdoors helps your memory and attention span.
Spending time outside can also make you feel less lonely and more connected to the world.
In one study, people who listened to natural sounds like birds chirping did better on tests than people who listened to street noises.
Kids who live near nature have a lower risk of developing mental illnesses than those who don't (about 50%).
There are also quite a few common practices coming up that people are using to connect to the outdoor world while helping their mental health. Forest bathing, an idea that came around in Japan in the 1980s, is a form of conscious walking through nature. In Japanese, the word is "shinrin-yoku," which means forest bath. When you open your senses, you can feel more linked to the outdoors. This can be as simple as smelling the fresh air or talking through the grass barefoot.
Mindfulness walks aren't a new idea. One way to go about it is to go through your senses one by one. What are five things you can hear? Five things you can see? Five things you can feel with your body? Many people use this technique when they're especially anxious or upset to feel more present and calm down. Similar to forest bathing, a mindful walk can help ground you.
If you've done any research about mental health, you've probably come across the benefits of practicing gratitude. Recognizing the things you're grateful for can help you stay positive and feel better, and this relates to nature too. When you're on the trail or going for a walk in a park in the city, take a minute to thank the world around you: the grass, the trees, the sky, even the sidewalk.
Concordia's Mental Health Resources
Traditionally, most universities don't have the best mental health resources out there—and Concordia is no different. However, that doesn't mean you can't find counseling, safe spaces, and active listeners both on and off campus. This isn't a comprehensive list, but start here if you're interested in learning more about the ways you can seek help on campus.
If you just need someone to talk to, the Concordia Students' Nightline is a great place to go. You can call (514) 848-7787 on any day except Sunday from 6pm to 3am. It has a roster of trained active listeners to help you vent or direct you to more intensive resources if you need them.
Zen Dens are safe spaces around campus where you can go for some quiet time. You can also find events and workshops to help you with your mental health throughout the school year. There are currently drop-in active listening hours throughout the year.
Concordia offers free therapy for students with Concordia insurance. You can speak with a professional therapist and build a mental health plan with them so you'll be equipped with whatever you need.
The Applied Psychology Centre is another great place to access therapy services. There is a long waitlist because it's more affordable than other resources, but it's worth it if you want long-term therapy in Montreal.
If you're struggling with trauma or mental illness related to sexual assault, SARC has many different resources for you. There are active listeners you can talk to, and if you need extra help they'll direct you to the right place.
If you need support related to gender or sexuality, you should visit the Centre for Gender Advocacy. You can access the Peer Support Advocacy (PSA) program for confidential online support. The Centre also has educational workshops and events related to gender advocacy.
You can access Maple if you have insurance with the CSU. You can speak to an online doctor and get prescriptions when you need them, but Maple also has a therapy program. You can access a therapist through a video or phone call, or even text chat if that's what you prefer.
Other Mental Health Resources
You can also find resources that aren't connected to Concordia, depending on what you need. Whether you need something based in Montreal or you're okay with talking to someone online, take a look at some other mental health resources you can find around town.
Vent Over Tea was actually started by McGill students when they were frustrated with wait times for therapy. They created a service where you can grab coffee (or tea!) with an active listener in Montreal. This is a great way to talk to someone, and you only have to pay for your drink.
The Lavender Collective is an organization that focuses on providing mental health support to BIPOC communities in and around Montreal. This collective is led by Black women and can help you connect to safe spaces and therapy for people of colour. You can find pretty much every resource you could need on the Lavender Collective site.
Montreal Therapy is a hub where you can find any type of therapy you need, and it has everything from art therapy to couple's therapy. You can also find online therapy sessions through its website. Montreal Therapy offers counseling on a sliding scale, which makes it more affordable for students.
AMI-Quebec is another place to find therapy and other mental health services in Montreal. Its website also includes articles that can help you learn more about mental illness and identify any issues you're having. There are also free online support groups for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, OCD, hoarding, bipolar disorder, and BPD.
Although Argyle Institute has long wait lists, it's a good place to go to speak to a therapist as well. It offers payment options on a sliding scale, and it also has student psychologists that can give you more affordable counseling. There are also events, workshops, and lectures throughout the year.
More Ways to Help Your Mental Health
Meditation can be a great way to calm your mind and become more in tune with your emotions. Apps like Headspace can help you learn how to do it, and Waking Up with Sam Harris is also a great choice (click the link for a free month!). It can be hard to get started, but people who love meditating say it works wonders.
Get a good sleep as much as you can! It will clear your mind, give you more energy, and allow you to dedicate yourself to whatever you need to do. If you have a good sleep schedule, better habits will come along with it. And although not everything's sunshine and rainbows all the time, keeping a positive attitude can always help if you're stressed. This is also where practicing gratitude comes in so you can focus on the good instead of the bad.
If you're really stressed out, try to evaluate your priorities. If you're too busy, try to take one or two things off your plate at a time so life doesn't get too overwhelming. Asking for an extension on that paper to spend a day taking care of yourself will be worth it. You could also try getting up earlier to have a minute to yourself before you start the day.
Just like being outside can make you feel better, so can moving your body. Take a yoga class or find a running group to keep you motivated. Even a morning walk is enough to focus your breathing and clear your head. Come visit us on our morning Mont Royal walk on October 15th!
And last but not least, reaching out for help is easier said than done, but it's the most important thing to keep in mind. Tell a family member or trusted friend if you're having a hard time. Your future self will thank you.
You Are Not Alone!
As part of the prep for this week's post, we reached out to you on Instagram to hear your thoughts and stories about how the outdoors have helped your mental health. No matter how alone you feel sometimes, tons of people might be in the same boat. All you have to do is talk about it.
"Being outside grounds me and helps me realize that the present moment is beautiful!"
"I've struggled with anxiety for my whole life, and even though I've gotten better at coping, I still feel like I miss out on the things that trigger me. Being outdoors makes my mind feel finally free in a way I can't explain. As soon as I feel fresh air I can sense the change in my body. That's where I go to feel safe, happy, and grateful for the world around me."
"Makes me feel a lot better!"
"It makes you think more clearly."
"Makes me realize how small my worries are in the larger context of things."
"Being outside helps me reduce my anxiety. Nature calms me and brings me tranquility."
"When I was clinically depressed, I went to the hospital fearful I would commit suicide. I woke up every day to the feeling of dread—wishing I could close my eyes and go back to not living. I got help and that slowly changed. Outdoors alone didn’t heal me, a concoction of multiple things helped heal me and continue to. But the thing outdoors gave and continues to give is gratitude for not ending my life. It serves as a constant reminder that there is beauty in being alive. And reminds me of my strength—that I kept fighting to make it here today. When I am amidst its grandeur and beauty, I feel gratitude for being alive and actually feeling alive. When I am in awe of the outdoors in front of me, I offer a soft whisper of gratitude for not ending my life when I wanted to. When I reach the summit of any hike, see the morning sun’s glimmer on the water or hear laughter echoed in the woods, I am filled with gratitude and zeal for life and all that it has to offer."
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