November 26th 2017

Alcohol and Mental Health

Whether you’re a craft beer connoisseur or enjoy indulging in some quality time with some quality wine, chances are that as a university student, you’ve probably encountered alcohol in some form at one time or another. While the responsible consumption of alcohol can be an enjoyable and pleasant experience, there are instances in which the usage of alcohol can take a toll on one’s mental wellness.

According to Statistics Canada, alcohol is the most common substance of abuse or dependence at 18.1%. The DSM-5 states that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) consists of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence and can be grouped into sub classifications as mild, moderate and severe. A diagnosis of AUD includes meeting at least 2 of the 11 criteria within a 12-month period. The criteria can illustrate the problematic nature of AUD with excessive drinking, the inability to quit drinking, or social issues caused by drinking, to name a few. The severity of an AUD is based on the numerical score obtained from the criteria ranging from mild (score: 2-3), moderate (score: 4-5) and severe (score: 6+).

Further examination of research between Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) suggests that there may be a casual correlation between the two disorders. The analysis found that the initial presence of either disorders can double the risk of developing the second disorder. However, the prevalence of developing AUD first and subsequently developing depression is more probable (Boden and Fergusson, 2011). This is hypothesized to be caused by the potential neurological and metabolic alterations due to excessive alcohol exposure (Boden and Fergusson, 2011). Therefore, current research is pointing to the casual nature of AUD and MDD, with ascending use of alcohol increasing the risk of depression.

While consuming alcohol has become a part of the university culture, there are self-initiating steps that can be taken in order to aim towards declining excessive drinking. For instance, a moderate drinking plan can be established to regulate consumption. This plan can include a set limit of how many drinks are to be consumed per week or journaling drinking habits in order to be mindful of the consumption. A number of iPhone and Android Apps are available that have been found to be helpful in reducing alcohol consumption (Quanbeck et al., 2014). Furthermore, the following steps can be taken in order to cut down the consumption and effects of alcohol, 1) the ingestion of a proper meal prior to drinking may curb or decrease the effects of alcohol 2) the avoidance of triggers, situations and individuals that may lead towards excessive drinking 3) if drinking has become a time consuming activity, becoming preoccupied with a new activity such as exercising, yoga, studying, etc. will further develop the presence of this objective (Rethink Drinking, n.d).

If you are in crisis or need immediate support, please contact:

Ryerson’s Counselling Centre 416-979-5195
Student Helpline Good2Talk 866-925-5454
Distress Centres of Toronto 416-408-4357 (408-HELP)


Alcohol Use Disorder: DSM–5. (2016). Retrieved October 13, 2017, from

Boden, J. M. and Fergusson, D. M. (2011), Alcohol and depression. Addiction, 106: 906–914. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03351.x

Government Of Canada. (2015, November 27). Health at a Glance. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from

Rethink Drinking. (n.d.). Tips to try – Rethinking Drinking – NIAAA. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from

Quanbeck, A., Chih, M. Y., Isham, A., Johnson, R., & Gustafson, D. (2014). Mobile delivery of treatment for alcohol use disorders: A review of the literature. Alcohol research: current reviews, 36(1), 111.

November 19th 2017

Anxiety: An Emotion on a Continuum

Have you ever met anyone who has never experienced anxiety? Odds are, you have not. Why is that? Well, anxiety is one of many emotions every human experiences and it is a very helpful emotion at that. Anxiety is a mental and physical reaction to threat that serves as a protective factor. For instance, imagine you are crossing the street and all of a sudden you see a car is heading straight for you. This is a situation in which the experience of anxiety is helpful because anxiety prepares the fight or flight response – in this case, the flight response. Anxiety leads to the release of chemicals that primes our body for action, increases our stamina, and facilitates quick escape to avoid danger (i.e., getting hit by the car). In this way, it would be problematic if someone were incapable of experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that exists on a continuum. The majority of people experience a level of anxiety that is somewhere in the middle of the continuum. However, some people experience very high levels of anxiety, which can be problematic. Anxiety is experienced in the face of real danger as well as perceived danger. For instance, if someone is worrying that others are thinking negatively of them at a social event, they are perceiving danger in a situation in which there is no objective, life-threatening danger. Nevertheless, this perception of danger will cause them to experience anxiety and will lead to the same release of chemicals as if they were crossing the street and a car was coming towards them. Anxiety is considered problematic if it prevents an individual from living life how they would like to or causes them a great deal of distress. High levels of persistent anxiety may be associated with an anxiety disorder. In future blog posts we will discuss the many types of anxiety disorders and helpful tools for managing anxiety.


October 1st 2017

What is depression?

Due to impressive media campaigns, awareness for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression is growing. Unfortunately, there is limited awareness about what these disorders actually look like for individuals. As stated in a previous blog post, mental illnesses are quite common. But, it is important that we do not mistake normal ranges of anxiety and sadness for mental illness. The purpose of this blog post is to provide information about the symptoms of depression and when you should consider seeking help for yourself or others.

Depression, based on the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, is defined by a specific set of symptoms. They key symptoms are 1) depressed or low mood, lasting for at least two weeks, for most of the day, nearly everyday; and/or 2) loss of interest or pleasure in activities you usually enjoy. At least one of these two symptoms, commonly referred to as low mood and anhedonia, are needed for a diagnosis of depression. Additionally, a diagnosis of depression could include 4 or more of the following associated symptoms: inability to fall asleep or stay asleep; change in weight or appetite; lack of energy; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; feeling physical restless or slowed down; difficulty with concentration; thoughts about death, self harm, or suicide. These symptoms also have to be present for at least two weeks, most of the day, nearly everyday, while the individual is experiencing low mood.

The symptoms of depression can be very serious and can lead to extreme circumstances such as hospitalization. But, for the majority of individuals, the effects of depression can be dealt with from a variety of treatment approaches. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the current “gold standard” for treatment of depression, and a number of accessible self-help books are available. Additionally, new research in the field suggests that mindfulness-based CBT (MCBT) shows a promising effect for individuals with depression without current suicidality. Talk to your doctor or other mental health care practitioner if you are experiencing the above symptoms of depression. The Centre for Student Development and Counselling on the Ryerson campus offers a number of supports including individual and group therapy for students who are dealing with depression.

If you are in crisis or need immediate support, please contact:

Ryerson’s Counselling Centre 416-979-5195

Student Helpline Good2Talk 866-925-5454

Distress Centres of Toronto 416-408-4357 (408-HELP)


September 17th 2017

Mental Health: Consider the Prevalence

As you may have heard, mental health problems are common. But how common? 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem in a given year and the one-year prevalence rate is only expected to rise over time. By the time individuals reach 40 years of age, 50% will have suffered from a mental health problem and the rate increases to 65-70% by the age of 90. What do these numbers mean? It is becoming evident that majority of Canadians will experience a mental disorder at some point in their lives. The government of Canada estimates that 1 in 3 Canadians experiences a mental illness in their lifetime. Mental health problems are most prominent between the ages of 15 and 24 and most mental health issues start during childhood or adolescence. Men and women are estimated to experience similar rates of mental health problems, with the prevalence being only slightly higher for women. The duration of mental health problems vary; however, the bottom line is that mental health problems are a widespread experience.

Interestingly, the prevalence of mental health issues is not far off from the prevalence of medical conditions, such as cancer and diabetes. 1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer over their lifetime and 1 in 10 will develop diabetes. However, Canadians are more likely to discuss medical conditions compared to a mental illness. According to a Canadian survey conducted in 2008, 68-72% of individuals reported they would tell a coworker or friend about a family member with a diagnosis of cancer or diabetes. In contrast, only 50% said they would disclose about a family member’s mental health issue. Friends and coworkers are just as likely to have a family member with a mental health issues as they are a family member with diabetes and cancer and yet people feel more comfortable discussing medical conditions than mental health. One likely reason is there remains stigma around mental health disorders that may contribute to peoples’ hesitation in being open about the topic of mental health. In a later blog post stigma around mental health will be discussed along with tips to help reduce stigma. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments about mental health prevalence, stigma, or seeking help!


September 10th 2017

Welcome to the Blog Project!

While constantly juggling assignments, papers and deadlines, being a university student can become exceedingly chaotic, often interfering with the maintenance of our mental health and process of self-care. Students for Mental Awareness, Support, & Health (SMASH) is a mental health and wellness student group at Ryerson University, that aims to bridge this gap between mental maintenance and the fast paced lifestyle of university students. Our mission includes, tackling and breaking down stigmas, raising awareness, providing education and resources for mental health and wellness in a supportive, welcoming and judgment free environment within Ryerson University. In order to purse our objectives through SMASH, we create and host an array of events and initiatives. Amongst these initiatives includes the creation of The Blog Project.

The Blog Project is to be an outlet that will primarily focus on acquiring and communicating information about mental health, mental illness, treatments and coping skills that students may obtain and grasp. This medium will extensively advocate and promote education about mental health and wellness through writing and researching. Ultimately, we hope to positively impact the Ryerson community by aligning and reflecting the purpose and mission of SMASH through the mechanism of a blog project.

If you would like to get in touch with us about the blog project, feel free to visit our Connect with Us page