Windsor

Experience with severe depression helps Windsor student embrace mental health

Rates of mental health issues among post-secondary students has reached a crisis level, according to a recent study that shows a rise in anxiety, depression and suicide attempts on school campuses all around Ontario.

Jory Fulcher draws from her own experience with severe depression to promote mental health among young people

Jory Fulcher is the social media coordinator for Jack.org, the charity that encourages youth to talk about mental health. (Derek Spalding/CBC)

Jory Fulcher was a first-year high school student, riding the bus on her way to class like she did any other day, when she got a text message telling her a friend had died by suicide.

The shocking death rocked the small community of Petrolia, Ont., located just southeast of Sarnia. In the days that followed, Fulcher attended the funeral, visited with friends and eventually went back to class.

Grievance counsellors were called in and support groups were set up at Lambton Central Collegiate Vocational Institute. Somehow, though, Fulcher missed out on those services as she spiraled into a dark hole of depression that would culminate in her final year of high school.

Having services available to all students and promoting the importance of mental health is now a large part of Fulcher's life. The second-year kinesiology student at the University of Windsor is also the social media coordinator for Jack.org, a charitable group that encourages youth to talk about mental health.

Having an outlet, or a strategy for someone to cope … is just so important,- Jory Fulcher

"I honestly think that would have helped a little bit, dealing with the emotions and what had happened," she said, referring to how she coped with her friend's suicide. "I didn't know how to deal with it, I had never lost something this big before."

Fulcher sees the need for mental health services all around her. Students are increasingly overwhelmed with the stresses and pressures of their new academic lives.

Students reaching crisis point

Officials from the Ontario University and College Health Association agree, calling the situation on campuses a crisis. In a survey published in 2016, they found 13 per cent of students considered suicide in the previous year —up from 10 per cent in 2013.

The same survey also found 65 per cent of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety and another 46 per cent felt so depressed they found it difficult to function.

Those figures don't come as a surprise staff at the University of Windsor Student Counselling Centre, where more than 830 students walked through the doors last year, compared to 320 students the first year it opened in 1999.

The school has made the issue one of its top priorities. Administration, faculty and students met last month to map out plans for a campus mental health strategy designed to help students cope with the pressures of school life. 

"This will help so many people," Fulcher said. "Having an outlet, or a strategy for someone to cope … is just so important."

Pressure can be too much

Fulcher knows from her experience how the struggles students face can often lead to debilitating anxiety and depression. After her friend's suicide, she said other stresses started to pile up including unresolved family conflicts and pressure from friends.

I just accepted my flaws and forgave myself for having those flaws. I think that's what made me a happier person, knowing I wasn't perfect and I didn't have to be perfect all the time,- Jory Fulcher

To make matters more difficult, Fulcher was working 35 hours a week at three part-time jobs. Then came the anxiety about getting accepted into university.

Fulcher even took responsibility for other people who threatened to kill themselves. 

"That was the scariest thing for me. It was like a nightmare that, if this happened again, it would be my fault because I knew and I didn't help," she said. "A majority of my time was me putting in an effort to make sure others didn't die by suicide."

​The stress showed up in little ways at first. Fulcher would forget simple things, like which toothbrush was hers. By her final year of school, though, she spent days in bed, avoiding school and work. 

Getting the right help

Fulcher thanks her parents for finally pulling her out of her depression. One day, they went into her room, made her get dressed and took her to a doctor.

She doesn't recall anything about that visit, but she certainly remembers the next day when her parents brought her to a therapist.

"I went in and just cried for the entire hour I saw her," Fulcher said. "That was the first time I cried in months. That was huge relief for me."

She was then put on heavy medication to help her sleep and manage her depression, but the drugs were too hard on her system, knocking her out for 12 hours at a time and often leaving her groggy throughout the day.

Doctors then recommended therapy, which Fulcher attributes to her turnaround.

"I dealt with grief that I'd never dealt with," she said. "I just accepted my flaws and forgave myself for having those flaws. I think that's what made me a happier person, knowing I wasn't perfect and I didn't have to be perfect all the time."

Fulcher still goes back for therapy sessions once in a while when life gets a little overwhelming. She says other students can benefit from similar help, if universities promote mental health and widely publish the services on campus.

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