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Introducing: Concordia’s emotional calendar for first-year stress

A new cross-sector initiative aims to proactively support students at challenging times of the school year
October 12, 2016
By J. Latimer

First-year students can be hit with a wave of new feelings — from homesickness and anxiety about making friends to the stress of mid-term exams. Add to that financial worries, and life can get overwhelming.

Luckily, help is here. This fall, Concordia health professionals and support staff from across the Student and Enrollment Services sector have been collaborating to chart the significant life events during a student’s first year that can act as emotional triggers.

These are being entered into something called an “emotional calendar” — a new tool to proactively support students that tracks how their emotions change over time, as well as the reasons why they change

“We’re really pleased about the innovation and the collaboration,” says Gaya Arasaratnam, director of Concordia’s CWSS.

“There are so many departments within the sector working together on this. This level of partnership is unheard of in organizations as large as ours, and that, in itself, is exciting.”

Due to the nature of mental health, some of Concordia’s responses must and will be clinical. However, not everything needs to be, Arasaratnam says.

“The Emotional Calendar offers a framework for non-health related services such as the Student Success Centre to contribute, too. We can all play a role.”

‘We see it every year’

Laura Mitchell, director of the Student Success Centre, notes that many common student challenges are cyclical. They may be unexpected to the student facing them, but to experienced staff who have helped countless students over the years, they form part of a trend line. Often just finding out that they are not alone in their struggles can be reassuring to new students.

“It’s a recurring situation — stress about finding a place to live is quickly followed by pressure to find a part-time job and master time management. We see it every year.”

With feedback from student focus groups and the Student Success Mentor Team, the emotional calendar was tested to ensure it accurately reflects students’ first-year experiences.

Mitchell says the goal is to make the calendar inclusive and applicable to all students, including Montrealers who live at home. That’s why she ran it by her diverse group of student mentors.

“They added some less obvious triggers, like apprehension about their first winter, sadness about missing their non-university friends and panic when their grades aren’t as high as those in CEGEP or high school.”

The benefits of ‘just in time’ information

Arasaratnam adds that knowing when students are stressed and anxious, and their related triggers, allows her team to intervene at the right time. She stresses the importance of providing this generation of students with “just in time” information.

“If you know the triggers, you can actually align your non-clinical service delivery across the calendar and provide communication and intervention at the exact time the student wants to hear from you.”

There is early information, she notes, that supports the efficacy of this “just-in-time” approach. She points to the high click rates of a NOW article about shyness, “A newbie's guide to making friends at Concordia.”

The write-up was published at the beginning of the fall term when first-year stress and anxiety is often linked to concerns around making friends, including the very real and worrying problem: who do I eat lunch with?

“You can feed students information and resources, but if your demographic doesn't want to hear from you in that moment, it's somewhat pointless,” Arasaratnam says.

“The emotional calendar helps to create a platform for which a wide variety of departments can contribute in a meaningful way. Moving forward, we hope to post it online so that it’s accessible to the wider community.”

Visit the 
Campus Wellness and Support Services Centre to learn more about wellness services on campus, and find out how to make an appointment with a counsellor.

Consult the complete list of activities at Concordia for October: Mental Health Awareness Month.



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