Prove your humanity

The academic year is inching toward its conclusion, and I am certain that just like me, you are feeling the stress begin to pile up, right alongside your pile of impending deadlines and exams. I’ve heard it all around campus. Rushed conversations about burnout between tutorials, exhausted murmurs of sleepless nights studying, cyclical talks of how self-care and social lives are taking a backseat—just until this next assessment is finished. Underneath it, were all feeling the same strain on our health, and it’s not just physical. The stress of the last few weeks of the semester takes a serious toll on our mental health.

Curtin knows this. They are deeply familiar with the sleep-deprived tension of this time (and, let’s be honest, the rest of the semester too), and provide students with a range of well-being services to soothe the pressure. Beyond the on-campus medical centre and Guild-led well-being events, the university offers fully confidential psychological and counselling services to all students. Counsellors are ready to help with a range of issues, including but not limited to, sexuality, relationship conflicts, stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, academic issues, addiction, perfectionism, neurodiversity, cultural concerns, life/study balance, and adjusting to life in Perth.

The first four sessions here are free of charge (so long as you have a Medicare or Overseas Student Health Cover card). If you require more sessions, you can get an additional 6 with a Mental Health Care Plan from your GP. Group sessions are also available and focus on a range of issues including managing stress in your life or on placement, anxiety skills development, improving self-compassion, dealing with depression and/or anxiety, ADHD Support Groups, developing mindfulness-based cognitive strategies, and a host of other topics.

Group session. Credit: Curtin University

Acting Clinical Manager for Psychological and Counselling Services, Penny Chai, explained the process for seeking mental health assistance through Curtin.

“Students can contact Student Wellbeing Advisory Service as the first point of contact and if they are struggling with a study or personal issue. If the student would like to access psychological support, they can be referred by Student Wellbeing Advisory Service, or they can self-refer to the Psychological and Counselling Services.”

For students who have never had experience with well-being services, the concept of beginning counselling can be daunting. If you’ve never had a session at Curtin before, or it’s been 6 months since your last, you’ll be eased in with a triage session. Put simply, this is a quick meeting to determine the urgency of your situation, and clearly outline what you need from your counsellor. This means it’s super important to be open and honest with your triage counsellor.

To make an appointment with a triage counsellor, you can call (08) 9266 7850. Phone lines open at 8:30am, and appointments are dished out on a first come first serve basis. To cater to the needs of all students, both on-campus and phone triage sessions are available. This means the service is available to students who live remotely or simply cannot manage a face-to-face meeting. You’ll then complete a form outlining the confidentiality agreement—this is basically an agreement that what you discuss will be kept totally private by your counsellor unless you pose a risk to others or yourself, or your counsellor becomes legally obligated to disclose information.

Many students mistakenly believe that since they do not have pre-existing mental health conditions (for example, diagnosed anxiety, OCD, or depression), these services are not for them. Penny Chai explains that “students do not need to have pre-existing mental health conditions to access our service. It is very common for students to come in either solely because of exam stress/relationship issues, or just wanting to get a letter of support. Sometimes it’s necessary to obtain a letter from our service, explaining to your lecturers or school why you weren’t able to complete an assessment on time, study at a full load, or complete every unit within a semester.”

She elaborates that, to her, the biggest misconception about mental health is “that ‘People should be able to handle mental health issues on their own’.  If you break your leg, no one expects you to walk off the pain. Just as you would seek care from a GP for a physical illness, you should have the same expectation around receiving treatment for a mental health issue. You may feel like you have to deal with your mental health concerns alone. In reality, a wealth of support exists to help you feel better.”

To students who may want assistance but are holding themselves back from seeking help because they feel as though their problems aren’t as severe as their peers, Penny says, “Everyone has mental health, even if you don’t have a diagnosable mental health condition like depression or anxiety.”

“For those who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, there is no substitute for treatment from a professional mental health care provider. But if you have mental health struggles that are on the milder end of the spectrum, such as stress or relationship issues, you can still benefit from mental health support.”

“If you are not sure if therapy is the right fit for you, you can improve your mental health by accessing online self-help resources, or practicing healthy lifestyle habits (e.g. consistent sleep patterns, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and socializing with people you are about). However, if you have tried these self-care and coping skills but you find your symptoms are keeping you from fulfilling your goals or functioning in daily life, perhaps seeking professional mental health care can be a more effective solution.”

If you’d like to contact Curtin Wellbeing, you can book an appointment by calling (08) 9266 7850 or by visiting their reception on level two of Building 109 between 8:30am and 4:30pm, Monday to Friday. For more information, visit Curtin’s Psychological and Counselling Services webpage.