Dr. Steven Barnes shares tips on student well-being

Dr. Steven Barnes

Let’s be honest: being a student can be stressful. Balancing a full course load with other commitments isn’t easy, and we often end up neglecting the most important part of our university experience: our well-being. Learning how to balance your workload and to take care of yourself is a crucial skill that often isn’t taught in the classroom.

UBC Psychology instructor Steven Barnes is a strong voice on campus who stresses the importance of student well-being. He teaches behavioural neuroscience, but some of his most valuable lessons are the ones that can’t be found on the course syllabi.

Dr. Barnes has partaken in a variety of initiatives to help improve student mental health. One of these initiatives is UBC Kaleidoscope, a peer-run support group that acts as a safe, confidential space for people to talk. He also makes an effort to bring mental health awareness into the classroom, noting that professors can play a substantial role in supporting students’ well-being. For example, Barnes encourages faculty to list all the mental health resources available on their course syllabi. He explains that this is just one of many little things that professors can do to help their students. “You can’t function in the learning environment if your well-being needs aren’t being met,” he reveals.

Barnes suggests that one way to improve your well-being is to get involved, such as by taking on a student leadership role. He explains that student leadership opportunities give students the chance to feel empowered. “Anyone feeling empowered feels better about themselves,” he reveals which, in turn, can improve one’s overall well-being. He further explains that psychological research shows that helping others improves one’s mental health. Student leadership is an opportunity to help yourself as much as it is to help others — and there’s science to back it up.

Barnes has one key piece of advice to students to make the most of their university experience: maintain balance. Barnes suffered from depression during his time as an undergraduate student, and admits that a lack of balance affected his mental health.

“If you can increase the amount of balance in your life between your academics and what’s outside school, it’ll benefit you in the long run,” he argues.

What’s one way to increase balance? Barnes suggests taking an extra year to complete your degree. He admits that if he could redo his undergraduate degree, he would have taken a 5th year. He knows well that students often feel pressured to finish their degree in four years — but he believes that taking some extra time, if possible, is worth it. “If you’re just doing five courses a term, and that’s all you’re doing, you’re not taking the opportunity to explore all the other opportunities available on campus or through the Vancouver community,” he argues.

Barnes asserts that getting involved in extracurricular activities such as student leadership are a way to enrich, rather than take away from, your university experience. Keeping on top of your academics is important, but your time at university doesn’t have to be dominated by schoolwork. Perhaps the key to your well-being as a student exists beyond the walls of the classroom — and there’s only one way to find out.

Mental health and wellbeing resources at UBC

This post was originally featured on the Student Leadership Conference (SLC) by Cleo Tracey.