09/04/2012 04:59 EDT | Updated 11/04/2012 05:12 EST

Back to School Can Be Bad For Mental Health

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one roommate folding laundry, the other roommate working on computer, exchanging a moment together

As Labour Day passes us by so does another summer which for hundreds of thousands of students means the start of a new school year. I work with dozens of students who are starting their first year of post-secondary studies this week and excitement is in the air.

It was just a few years ago that I had my first day of college and I can relate to my coworkers' excitement. But I'm concerned they aren't being prepared for things like potential mass amounts of student debt but also the toll college and university can take on a student's mental health.

I talked about this earlier this year when I was a guest on TVOs The Agenda with Steve Paikin:

As somebody who has mental illness I wasn't even prepared for the mental and emotional challenges I would face in college. In my opinion, more must be done in high school to prepare students for the very real challenges they'll be facing in the next few years.

For starters, there was the shock of seeing my college grade point average significantly lower then my high school grade point average. In high school I was getting high 80s or low 90s; in college I was getting high 70s or low 80s. Sure, those are still good marks but initially the difference in marks took a beating on what kind of student I considered myself to be. I heard from my classmates the drop in their grades depressed them and some even contemplated dropping out or switching majors.

Then came the workload -- it was tough! Though I only had 20 hours of class every week a lot of my assignments and homework took me outside of the classroom because after all I was taking journalism. But I estimate my homework and assignments took me another 20 hours a week to complete, which is equivalent to a full-time job!

As somebody who hates debt and has a single parent who was unable to financially support me I was forced to work after school and all day during weekends and holidays. Between work and school I was putting in at least 70 hours a week.

This situation isn't unique to me; it applies to thousands of students everywhere in difficult circumstances too.

More must be done by our politicians who can have the power to control the price of tuition through publicly funded post-secondary institutions which in turn controls the amount of debt taken on by students. Student debt in itself can lead to a mental breakdown.

Also, I would encourage college and universities to better promote services available to students who may be experiencing challenges with their mental health. Students must know these services exist. I sure didn't know until it was too late. There's a lot of stigma involved in seeking help for your mental health and privacy must be maintained. But keeping these services on the down low will only further the shame and stigma students feel.

I would encourage students with mental illness to speak to somebody at their school to talk about what services and options are available to them should they become overwhelmed. For students who don't have mental illness I suggest researching signs and symptoms that could indicate you're living with mental illness or what you can do should school become too stressful for you.

While education is important so is your mental health, I think you should find a balance between the two. That's not always possible so if it comes down to it you're mental health should come first.

School will always be there, your success depends on a healthy mind!