By: Aaron Richardson


As a student, it is often difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are many limitations on students that cause this: a significantly lower budget than non-students makes it hard to afford to eat healthily; many students aren’t even sure how to eat healthily; high levels of stress very regularly accompany academics; with a busy schedule, physical exercise is often forsaken; and, on top of all of that, many students are just leaving their parents’ house, and are beginning to take care of themselves for the first time. With all of these factors, it can be easy to lead an unhealthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. Here are some things you need to know as a student.


Physical Health

What physical symptoms require medical attention?

Often times, it is even difficult to know when symptoms you are experiencing merit a doctor’s visit. Below is a list of physical symptoms, provided to The Peak by SFU Health and Counselling Services (HCS), that should be checked by a doctor. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go to the doctor and get them checked out.

Keep in mind, this is far from an exhaustive list. If you are experiencing any symptoms that interfere with your everyday life, or function and quality of life, and if these symptoms persist, it’s best to go get them checked out.

  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
    These are very serious symptoms, and should be checked as quickly as possible.
  • Persistent fever for more than three days
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain with urination or ejaculation
  • Genital sores or growths
  • A painful or swollen calf
  • Back pain that radiates to the leg or is associated with weakness or numbness in the legs
  • Change in level of consciousness or vomiting after a head injury

What symptoms do not require medical attention?

Apart from the previously listed symptoms, there are many that don’t require medical attention from a doctor, and can often be taken care of at home. Below are some examples, as well as ways in which they can be treated.

  • Common cold and flu
    These symptoms can often have an impact on the daily life of students, and can interfere with school and/or work. They rarely require a visit to the doctor. These symptoms can be treated with many over-the-counter medications. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be used to help relieve pain and fever. Medications such as Advil, Tylenol Cold and Flu, cough drops, and cough syrups can be used to treat many symptoms caused by the common cold and flu. Non-medical treatments such as greater amounts of rest and plenty of fluids can also aid recovery. As these are viral infections, it is important to know that antibiotics are never required to treat them.
  • Non-severe headaches, neck, and back pain
    Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be used to treat these symptoms as well.
  • Joint injuries in the knees or wrists and ankle sprains
    Rest, icing, and elevating the injured area, as well as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are often sufficient to treat these injuries.


Mental Health

Despite any stigma that might exist circulating around mental health issues, they are strikingly common in post-secondary environments. Every three years, the National College Health assessment is held. At this conference, data of student physical and mental health and behaviour is collected and analyzed. The most recent conference in the spring of 2016 had many findings about student health and well-being. Some findings include:

  • The number one barrier to academic success is stress (with anxiety and sleep difficulties being the second and third largest barriers).
  • 55.0 per cent of students reported feeling exhaustion not caused by physical activity within the last two weeks of them doing the survey (with 87.8 per cent of students reporting such feelings in the last 12 months).
  • 53.4 per cent of students reported feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities in the last two weeks of them doing the survey (with 89.2 per cent feeling this way in the last 12 months).

Mental health issues are a common source of clinic visits at SFU, with 21 per cent of office visits being related to mental health issues in the 2015–16 academic year (this is an increase from 14 per cent in the 2011–12 academic year) according to Dr. Patrice Ranger, physician lead at HCS. Because of this high rate of mental health concerns, HCS is well-equipped with teams comprising of doctors, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychologists, registered clinical counselors, and even graduate students working on their practicum training. With the staff and its resources, HCS is there to help with any mental health issues students are experiencing.

Below is a list of some symptoms that are signs that you should see a doctor.

  • Persistent depressed mood
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Suicidal thoughts or thought of self-harm
  • Thoughts of causing serious harm to others
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should contact HCS to make an appointment and take advantage of the services they can offer to help you.  

In a recent interview with the Director of Health and Counselling Services at SFU, Martin Mroz, he outlined the ways in which the environment we live in can affect our well-being. In acknowledgement of this, SFU and many other schools across the world are working on creating campuses that encourage student well-being. In 2015, SFU took part in the International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus (UBCO) in Kelowna. The main outcome of this conference was the Okanagan Charter — a call to action for schools to create campuses that promote student health.

The school is making efforts to create better environments for students. But there is plenty that students can do as well to help improve the environment they live in and even just to improve their own daily well-being, such as:

  • Developing relationships with peers
  • Eating healthily and exercising regularly
  • Joining clubs to promote feelings of connectedness
  • Regularly getting enough sleep
  • Getting help when and where it is needed