“It’s All Good (Unless It’s Not)” – A guide to mental health for students, by a student

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If there is one takeaway message I hope you get from this book, it’s that there are people in your life and on campus who care about you and are ready to help (even if you don’t know who they are yet). I want you to realize this and to feel empowered to reach out to others.

p. 10

Nicole Malette, currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at The University of British Columbia, wrote the above quote in the introduction of her book, entitled It’s All Good (Unless It’s Not). Being someone who struggled with her mental health throughout her undergraduate degree, Malette decided to create a broad, all-consuming guide for other undergraduates who experience the same stressors she recalls from those years.

It’s All Good (Unless It’s Not) is broken into eight chapters and a final conclusion. Covering a range of topics from chapter one’s “Making the Transition to University” to chapter eight’s “Recognizing the Signs of Mental Illnesses”, Malette attempts to cover most of the scenarios faced by a young person entering a university setting for the first time. For the purposes of this book review, I will briefly summarise each chapter of Malette’s work and, at the end, discuss her implementation of ‘blurbs’ throughout to increase the digestibility, coherence, and informative nature of the book.

Chapter one considers everything from basic budgeting to time management, things everyone would benefit to learn about, but things which are extremely pertinent to first-years who may be on their own without a safety net for the very first time.

Chapter two, “Valuing and Supporting Diversity”, is particularly informative as it covers the variation of experiences university offers to different students. Malette prefaces her chapter by acknowledging her privilege as “a white, heterosexual, cisgender female who came from a middle-class family” (21) which I valued, as it made me trust that she recognised the privileges she holds and thus, trust her opinions more. The chapter delves into first-generation, racialised, Indigenous, international, and LGBTQ+ students, and how their university experience differs from white, legacy, cisgendered and heterosexual students. It provides resources on mental health initiatives, programs and even scholarship information for students of the above identities.

Chapter three, entitled “Understanding Mental Health”, offers readers various definitions associated with mental wellness. She defines good stress versus bad stress, outlines various factors associated with the development of mental illness, and offers ways to combat mental illnesses through holistic approaches and mindfulness. Using blurbs throughout called “Self-care strategy“, Malette separates information on specific and helpful information to catch the reader’s eye. An interesting strategy from this chapter is “Being Mindful” (49), which outlines ways in which the reader can implement mindfulness into their daily lives to improve their mental wellbeing.

Chapter four is one of the most beneficial ones in my opinion. Entitled “Meeting Academic Hurdles Head-On”, Malette writes on different ways one can improve one’s study habits, dealing with parental expectations, how to change one’s program of study, and finally, how to handle graduate school or job applications. In a second type of blurb, she includes “FYI“‘s, bubbles which outline factual concepts in a more accessible way. This chapter’s FYI is “How to Dissect a Journal Article”, which certainly is a skill any university student requires. This chapter will benefit any student as it offers realistic advice and does not sugar-coat the reality of being a student: sometimes studying will be miserable. Sometimes, your learning style will not match your professor’s teaching style. Malette offers approaches to deal with those (and other) common problems.

Chapter five, “Making Time for Friends and Extracurriculars”, covers how to cope with the ‘lost’ feeling freshmen often experience before they make new friends, how to join clubs and sports, and, importantly, ways to deal with the loneliness being a student can generate.

Be good to yourself. Think about your situation
with some compassion, recognize your challenges, and ask for
help if you need it.

p. 75

Chapter six is an eye-opening chapter as it focuses on the ‘ideal college life’ as seen in movies and television. “Going Out and Staying In” covers how to balance partying with academics and health; even discussing (from the perspective of realism) how students may have an urge to party since they have the freedom to do so for the first time in their lives. In a similarly realistic vein, the chapter has a segment “Let’s Talk about Sex” (79) which outlines consent, sexual harassment, and sexual health resources.

Here I will introduce another blurb, titled “Getting Help“, in which Malette outlines help resources relating to the chapter topic: here, the segment covers when a student might wish to seek the help of an on-campus counsellor, and ways to report sexual violence.

Chapter seven covers how to maintain one’s sense of self in a university setting. “Doing it All and Still Having Time for You” focuses on self-care strategies. Exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep are some of the topics covered here. This chapter hosts one of my favourite Self-care strategies discussing ‘meal prepping’ and ways to eat healthy on a university student’s budget or living on a meal plan. This chapter offers practical ways to take care of oneself.

Chapter eight discusses ‘the heavy stuff’, in that it covers actual mental illnesses and their specific symptoms. While breaking down types of mental illnesses one by one, Malette also covers substance use and offers resources to get help with various issues.

Finally, Malette’s conclusion entitled “Keeping a Healthy Mind” has the following three segments: “Have compassion for yourself and others”, “Talk about it”, “Ask for help and don’t get swamped”. Here, Malette has a conversation with her reader; she talks about her success after she searched out help and offers a glimmer of hope for students who are suffering with poor mental health.

The fact that you picked up and read this book means you’re
on the right path. By taking care of yourself you’re lighting the
way for others.

p. 120

Malette’s book also offers Student Story sections which offer perspectives from other students which offers a more humanistic and personalised reading experience. The Self-care Strategy, FYI, Getting Help and Student Story bubbles increase the coherence of the book by separating information to emphasise it and allow readers to easily find information on helpful resources, and tips and strategies to approach wellness.

The book is overall very helpful in its easy-to-read language: it reads like a conversation, rather than a ‘self-help’ book, and is extremely well-organised and coherent. As someone who, like a lot of students, has issues with mental wellness, reading It’s All Good (Unless It’s Not) was refreshing. So often self-care is treated in gimmicky ways (as Malette talks about on page 85) which can be off-putting as they offer what seem to me to be Band-aid solutions; like Malette says, “Self-care is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days.” (85). It’s All Good reads coherently and smoothly, giving the reader the impression that they are being spoken ‘with’ and not ‘at’, while still maintaining a realistic and non-sugarcoated approach to wellness. Furthermore, for those who may be intimidated by the book-format (i.e. thinking it is too long to get through, too much of a commitment, etc.), Galette breaks up each chapter by frequent subheadings. The use of subheadings and blurbs allows the book to be treated almost like a reference book as one can easily find exactly the topic they require help with.

I would recommend It’s All Good (Unless It’s Not) to any level of university or college student. Since Malette approaches the topic of mental health with the university setting in mind, the things she discusses are extremely relevant to us. Even if they are not relevant to you, they may be relevant to a friend of yours.

Nicole Malette’s book is available for print purchase or free PDF download from UBC Press’s website.

Nicole Malette is an instructor and PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia. Her work focuses on how post-secondary institutional contexts impact undergraduate student mental health and mental health service-use.

UBC Press site, “Author”, www.ubcpress.ca/its-all-good-unless-its-not#
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