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When I first moved to Canada as an international student my mental health absolutely plummeted. I originally grew up in Uganda and went to boarding school in Kenya and the United Kingdom, so I knew most of the same people my entire life and grew up with a very close group of friends.

When I came to UBCO in 2018 I knew no one. My social life suffered greatly. I didn’t know how to interact in a new culture or how to make friends as an adult and became extremely reclusive. Unfortunately, I started to turn to small amounts of alcohol and cannabis which only escalated my proclivity for anxiety.

A young man with short black thin dreadlocks in a brown sweater is smiling at the camera in front of a teal board with mathematical equations scribbled on it.

Back home, no one talked about mental health, and my coping mechanisms were those of my engineer fathers- buckle down, get the work done, and the stress will be over. This was not sustainable in my pre-med biochemistry and molecular program as there are constant deadlines. I have always had my eyes set on becoming a neurosurgeon and astronaut, so my classes are quite intense. I did well but became extremely self-critical of anything less than perfection.

All these factors combined eventually brought me to such a dark place that it wasn’t safe for me to be alone. I sought help and ended up spending a week in the hospital. I also went on antidepressants and eventually, my counsellor referred me to YMind, a free YMCA mindfulness program for youth. 

At first, I was skeptical of the program and had misconceived notions about what mindfulness was. Once I started, I was completely blown away with how truly transformative it was. It completely altered my way of thinking, and in turn, my lifestyle. Slowly, my self-acceptance improved, and I started to connect with others. The most incredible thing was that eventually I was able to wean off my anti-depressants!

A young man with short black thin dreadlocks in a brown sweater is smiling at the camera in front of a school atrium with paintings, students, and large windows in the background.

If I had never taken YMind, I would likely have continued to struggle communicating and would still be very self-critical. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to create the strong friendships I have today. Now, I punctuate my daily life with little bits of mindfulness while out walking and on the bus. 

My story is not an isolated experience, many participants shared how this mindset changed their view on life as well. After coming out of such a dark time, I want to use my experience to help others. I have even started a mindfulness club at UBCO in hopes of teaching mindfulness and meditation to more people, creating a supportive community, and helping others appreciate life more.

I don’t think people realize how difficult it is for international students to make connections in a new culture. I went from being nihilistic to living a peaceful and joyful life, and I went from struggling socially, to having a great group of friends and starting a club for other students. To understand the impact that has come out of the YMind program, for myself and for others, is truly a beautiful thing.

Living mindfully has completely transformed my life. I went from a really dark place to now finding joy in my everyday life. It helped ease the stress of being a student, helped with my social anxiety, and helped with my self-discovery and self-acceptance.

YMind is a free psychoeducational support group for ages 13-30 led by mental health practitioners, designed to help participants be present and manage their anxieties. Sessions start this fall, learn more and register here.

Stories like Jeremy’s would not be possible without the support of generous donors who keep vital YMCA programs and services free or subsidized to those who truly need them. Learn more here, if you are able, please consider making a financial contribution or joining our team of volunteers today.