Marianne Xia, a third-year student at Dalhousie University who suffers from anxiety and panic disorder, is starting a student-run group called Anxiety and Panic Disorder Society.
The society was started about two weeks ago and since then Xia has recruited 37 members to the Facebook page. The goal is to form a charity to raise money to help those who suffer from anxiety and panic disorder.
Xia says she started the group because she feels that there is a lack of awareness and emotional support for those who suffer from anxiety. She feels that people don’t treat mental health issues the same as a physical injury or sickness.
“People sometimes think you’re pretending to be that way, they just don’t understand,” said Xia.
Xia suffers from panic and anxiety attacks. She says that it was brought on by being bullied for six years in primary school.
She says when she had panic attacks her parents and school teachers would tell her that she should stop feeling that way, and that she was fine because she showed no physical symptoms.
She says she had a very serious panic attack two summers ago while at work.
“I started thinking a lot; it was hard to breathe and then I felt like I was having a heart attack because my heart rate would instantly go up to 150 and I couldn’t breathe. I felt numb all the way to my chest and fingertips and I couldn’t stand any more. My fingers became really cramped and everyone thought it was a seizure.”
Xia had to be taken away in an ambulance. She says her employer paid the $400 ambulance bill, though she still felt that her attack wasn’t taken seriously.
Xia says that even in Canada there are few resources to help people cope with anxiety and panic. She mentions Canadian Mental Health Association and Anxiety Disorder Association. Xia hopes to have her own website by the end of March.
“I realize that lots of people don’t have access to counselling services so this is why I am setting up this society,” she said.
Access to counselling services is becoming more stretched within the Dalhousie campus and the Halifax Regional Municipality area.
There is a six-week long waiting list for Dalhousie counselling services. Dr. David Mensink, a registered psychologist with Dalhousie counselling services, feels that they are doing their best to provide quality service for students and reduce the waiting list that is already 80 students long.
Mental health services in Halifax are extremely stretched according to Mensink. With a six month waiting list for services in the city, the wait for the Dalhousie services no longer seems as long.
“They are so stretched that they are referring in to us so it’s not like the community is creating more options, it’s actually working in reverse. The community is giving us more work,” said Mensink. “If you had better community services then the waiting list here could be shorter.”
With such a long waiting period Xia’s new society could not come any sooner. They provide student run support groups for those students who require extra help coping with anxiety and panic disorder.
Xia’s society will be hosting a fundraising night at Boston Pizza on March 11. Ten per cent of food and drink sales from those who attend the night will be given to the society.