Lacey Cox stands at the end of the bed, unpacking her work bag from a night shift. Textbooks blanketed with dust fill the wooden bookshelf in the corner of the room, and a black grad cap hangs off a tack on the wall.
Cox’s room is spotted with souvenirs of her four years at Acadia University, an experience tainted by master’s program rejection letters, debt and no professional employment.
Cox says these factors are contributing to her recent feelings of depression.
“I am usually a very resilient person, but right now I feel lost, insecure and pitiful,” Cox says.
“The fact that I graduated and I’m not going into more schooling, or a profession that directly relates to my undergrad makes me a weak link in society.”
Cox is not alone.
For recent graduates, finding employment isn’t the problem.
The problem is securing a professional career. Young people are going into overwhelming amounts of debt to fund bachelor’s degrees that give them no employable qualifications.
This problem is compounded by the fact that recent graduates do not have access to the universities’ mental health resources and are no longer covered by their parents’ insurance.
A 2014 study done by the University of California at Berkeley shows graduates’ perception of their career prospects, academic progress and financial confidence are some of the biggest factors in determining a person’s mental well being.
Data from Statistics Canada in 2010 shows 60 per cent of Nova Scotia graduates had loans over $25,000, with the average student debt at graduation being $30,400.
Cox says student loans cause her the most stress. She justifies her situation by working two jobs to put $3,000 on her loan each month.
“Making payments on it is probably the only thing that is keeping me relatively sane at this point,” Cox says.
Jennifer Lewandowski, from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, says, “Mental illness is frequently mistaken for growing pains.”
She says most forms of mental illness manifest between the ages of 15 and 24, making recent graduates vulnerable to depression and high anxiety.
These factors play a major role in Cox’s life as a recent graduate, yet there is almost no research done on the issue and no services or awareness programs on Nova Scotia campuses.
A psychologist for Dalhousie’s counselling services, David Mensink, says this is a community problem and not an issue that falls under the scope of university counselling.
Cox says that perception needs to change.
Community health services are available, but these are hard to access for Cox, who hasn’t found a professional career.
“Even if I go to my doctor, I don’t have health insurance,” says Cox. “I don’t have the resources that will allow me to go see a psychiatrist.”
Cox says she feels societal expectations surrounding education play a large role in her perception of herself.
Cox is working two entry-level jobs and plans to reapply to the Dalhousie master’s program in occupational therapy for the 2017-2018 year.
If you or someone you know is in urgent crisis, you can call the Mental Health Mobile Crisis team at 1-800-429-8167.