Meet Sara Hanna: Western Engineering's Student Wellness Counsellor

 At Western Engineering, we believe that mental health is just as important as physical health. 

Year after year, Engineering students experience high rates of stress during their time in the program. Balancing academic, family and personal demands and financial stressors – in addition to being away from home, family and friends – are some of the new experiences that engineering students share.

To mark Mental Health Day, Western Engineering Dean Ken Coley sat down with Sara Hanna, the faculty's Student Wellness Counsellor, to talk about the importance of mental health and well-being.

Hanna, B.S.W., M.S.W., R.S.W., is a Registered Social Worker with the OCSWSSW. She has experience providing counselling services to young adults in an education setting, as well as in private practice.

The full transcript of their conversation can be found below.


Ken Coley: Sarah, thank you for sitting down with me today to mark Mental Health Day. As you know, Western Engineering is committed to supporting the mental health of all of our community. The work that you do with our students is a critically important part of that. I think we know in general terms that mental wellness is incredibly important. But I think sometimes we reduce the conversation to ‘Am I happy?’ or ‘Am I sad?’, but it's about quite a bit more than that, isn't it? 

Sara Hanna: You're absolutely right. Wellness is about the active pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and choices through which people become more aware of and make choices that lead them to a more successful existence. It's not about the absence of challenge. Challenges are going to happen all throughout life. But it's about actively making healthy choices to promote your success and well-being. That's how we become a lot more resilient and that's the message that we are trying to send to our students, And ultimately that doesn't only help them in their personal life, it helps them in their academic life here in engineering. But it also translates into bigger success when they're out in the community, in their professional life. 

KC: So, Sarah, from what you just said, I get the sense that a big part of your role is teaching people how to take control of their own mental well-being.

SH: Absolutely. Becoming a lot more emotionally intelligent.

KC: There'll be a lot of people watching this video, and I think it's fair to say that many of them will have different views of what mental wellness counselling is. Can you say a bit about why somebody might seek out the help of a counsellor?

SH: There are so many reasons as to why one might seek counselling from wanting to talk to someone, anxiety, depression, conflict resolution, conflict management, academic troubles. Or wanting to access resources, skills and tips. Another thing that we do in counselling is really supporting students in understanding what they're feeling, why they're feeling it, and how to cope. Oftentimes, students wait until things have really escalated because they think that they should be able to navigate or manage a situation on their own. And this is not true. Admitting that you need help is the biggest barrier that you can overcome. It takes a lot of courage to really seek support. There's not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ reason to see a counsellor. One of the best things about seeing a counsellor is that even if they don't have the appropriate resources, they will always direct a student to someone who does.

KC: So we've been talking about mental wellness counselling, and I truly believe it's an incredibly important resource that we offer our students. but I know there are other ways that students can seek out support. Can you share a bit about the other ways that we can support the mental well-being of our students?

SH: One of the things that we offer is workshops. We offer a series of workshops every term that are psychoeducational in nature, and the topics vary from teaching students how to access resources to managing stress and anxiety during exam time. The other thing that we have is we have an e-book that's full of resources on and off campus with mental health apps, and wellness apps that students can access. And it makes it so easy for them to really find those resources. 

KC: Sara This has been a fascinating conversation, and on behalf of Western Engineering, I would like to thank you for sharing your time with us today, but also for all the fantastic work you do. But before we end this conversation, do you have any final thoughts?

SH: One of the things that I often remind students of is that their present circumstances really do not determine where they can go or how high they can fly. Reach out for support. We as human beings are really not meant to operate in isolation. We are here to help support you and really celebrate you. Thank you so much.