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Stigmatizing anxiety

On shrugging it off, and why it’s important to seek help

Students can suffer from a lot of anxiety, and anxiety-induced stress. Whether it is from having to submit essays, or having to deal with pressures from work or personal issues, students go through a lot. But how significant of an issue does stress become for an individual?

What is anxiety?
According to Melanie Dirks, assistant professor in McGill’s Department of Psychology, anxiety disorders may often present themselves as discreet, internalized problems and consequently are often overlooked. However, although not always diagnosed, people suffering from anxiety have to endure difficult conditions that do in fact impact them and those around them.

The strong negative emotion or tension we refer to as anxiety is usually accompanied by physiological symptoms that are often debilitating. Symptoms may include physical sensations such as an increased heart rate, sweating or nausea. The individual may also exhibit signs of panic. Moreover, individuals may demonstrate cognitive shifts such as suicidal thoughts or difficulty concentrating, in addition to irregular behavioural patterns such as avoidance or unusual crying. Avoidance can be a helpful coping strategy in the short term but often augments anxiety over time. A student may, for example, put off studying for an exam that they are particularly worried about. Though this will reduce negative emotions related to the upcoming exam temporarily, anxiety will likely be stronger the next time that the student attempts to study. Anxiety disorders have high prevalence rates – 8 to 27 per cent – among studemts. They also span across a person’s lifetime, and are also related to other major issues, such as depression, drug dependency, and academic difficulties.

Tough it out
There still exists a lot of stigma with regards to mental illness in our society. This causes most people to take the ‘tough it out’ approach because they are too ashamed to ask for help. The symptoms of people suffering from these disorders are trivialized due to this stigmatization. In turn, this could have a very serious effect on how someone views their own situation. Samantha Goldwater-Adler, who holds a PhD in Psychology, describes the ‘tough it out’ approach as very harmful. “When stress becomes so intense or long-standing that the person has difficulty functioning and experiencing enjoyment in life,” said Goldwater-Adler, “feeling the need to tough it out can really get in the way of seeking out much-needed help.” She adds that this only increases “the risk that the stress persists, worsens, and takes a […] toll on the person’s mental and physical health.” Goldwater-Adler does mention that toughing it out may, in fact, be fine for stress that is mild and does not interfere with daily life or cause significant distress, and suggests that dealing with mild daily life stressors on your own is fine; however, when this stress begins to interfere with your quality of life it is important to seek help. Traditionally, people with mental health problems were viewed as broken or faulty, and any mental health issues, no matter how mild, were held within the same scope.

People often won’t know where to seek helps – or even whether to seek it in the first place – when it comes to anxiety. Additionally, people still suggest that all someone needs is a good shake and the desire to truly want to get rid of anxiety in order to make everything better.

“feeling the need to tough it out can really get in the way of seeking out much-needed help.” -Samantha Goldwater-Adler

Is it that serious?
Simply speaking, yes. Most people assume that anxiety-induced stress is an everyday part of life and we should all wait it out until it goes away. As mentioned, this may be true in some minor cases. In some cases it seems as though stress and anxiety may act as a motivator in order to stop procrastination; however, if the problem is constant, high levels of stress can be extremely debilitating and can have adverse effects on long-term health. Stress can be so paralyzing that the body essentially shuts down and the mind blanks out as a result of lack of sleep or lack of focus. Apart from the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety, these effects can also lead to ‘burning out’ and depression.

What to do?
If you do need help, you should seek it out; however, it seems as though the McGill community has a lot of issues with its own Mental Health Clinic. Judging by some classroom discussions and conversations between students on campus, one of the biggest concerns with the Mental Health Clinic is how inaccessible the services are. The waiting time to make appointments, and for the drop-in clinic, are extremely long. According to a Daily article entitled “Moving toward a different model of mental health,” published on October 17, the average wait time for a first appointment is two weeks, while the wait time for a follow-up appointment averages six weeks.

QPIRG offers alternatives to the Mental Health Clinic, such as the Inclusive Mental Health Collective, which recently gained working group status. It is run by students, for students, and advocates a safe and open space for sharing experiences related to anything that has to do with mental health. The Collective offers weekly camp circles and meditation groups, shared experience groups relating to depression, anxiety, life on and off medication, as well as specific workshops such as personal empowerment, yoga, conflict resolution, social justice, and mental health.

Stress is not an insignificant problem, and if you are feeling as though your anxiety is debilitating and chronic, be brave and strong enough to seek help for it. Brushing it off will only make it worse and have truly damaging side effects on your mental and physical health.

If you would like any more information on the Inclusive Mental Health Collective, email them at