Need for mental health services inspires former student to return to the U of R

By Costa Maragos Posted: May 10, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Cynthia Beck returned to the U of R after a 22-year absence. She has encouraging words for alumni and others who are thinking of returning to university life.
Cynthia Beck returned to the U of R after a 22-year absence. She has encouraging words for alumni and others who are thinking of returning to university life. Photo by Rae Graham – U of R Photography

Returning to university classes as a mature student can be a scary thought. One can come up with a variety of reasons for taking that big step back into academia.

For Cynthia Beck, it’s a calling.

Beck is a third-year honours Psychology student who returned to the U of R after a 22-year absence.

She started back slowly in the fall of 2015, taking one online class. Beck has worked her way up. She will take four classes in the Fall, 2017 semester.

We spoke with Beck about the joys and the challenges of returning to university and her dream of making a difference for people needing mental health services in rural Saskatchewan.

Cynthia, what has your experience been like at the U of R since your return?

My experience upon returning to the U of R has been excellent. There are so many programs now to help students succeed. The University has changed a lot in 22 years. The classes are interesting and the professors thus far truly care. They are committed to helping their students learn and succeed.

What is your previous education?

I studied at the University of Regina in the early nineties, taking Faculty of Arts classes and French classes. I then took Television Production at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary and worked in the media for fifteen years. In 2015, I certified in the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and became a suicide first-aid responder.

Cynthia Farm
Life on the ranch. Cynthia Beck farms near Regina where she and her husband are raising their children.

What else have you been up to these past few years before returning to University?  

My husband and I farm, along with his family, on a mixed farming operation. We have two children, one teenager, and one almost teenager.

Personally speaking, I have been learning and working as much as possible in the area of mental health over the past eight years. I facilitated a support group for depression and anxiety in Regina and Weyburn in conjunction with the Canadian Mental Health Association for a couple of years.

I currently provide suicide first-aid assistance to rural areas in southern Saskatchewan.

I also worked as a lender at a rural financial institution, mostly providing credit counselling and financial education.

You were away from classes for 22 years. What made you want to return?  

Mental health is a subject that is near and dear to my heart because of my own experience. I am very open to sharing my personal experience with depression, and people often shared their own story with me.

Through those sharing of stories, I helped someone over the course of a few years to work on a life plan, as opposed to their death plan, while they repeatedly tried to find professional help in the rural environment.

That help never came through. The person took their life in the spring of 2015. I realized at that moment that I could be angry, frustrated, and complain about the rural healthcare system all I wanted, but it would never make a difference. I enjoy being a suicide first-aid responder, but for me, it is not enough. I help people, but only in the short term.

There needs to be more options for mental health in rural areas. That is why I returned to university, to make a long-term difference in rural mental health.

Cynthia Farm Photo
When someone she knew had committed suicide, Cynthia Beck vowed to make a difference. She plans on using her Psychology degree to enhance mental health services in rural Saskatchewan.

What is the biggest challenge returning to school as a 'mature' student?

My university grades from the early nineties. They are haunting me.

There is no expiry on grades; however, there is an expiry on credit hours. That has been my biggest challenge – dealing with the frustration of ‘young me’ and how I approached university then, to the high achiever me of today, trying to raise my overall GPA to where it needs to be.

What might be the biggest advantage returning to classes after being away for a few years?

I feel life experience provides an advantage, especially in the area of psychology. I also feel time management skills are the biggest advantage to returning to classes after many, many years.

University is very different this time around for me. I am still a mom, still a farmer, still a suicide first-aid responder, so I have to be able to manage my time well because other people need me.

What does it feel like being surrounded at times by younger students?

This is an interesting question because I am going to sound old in my response.

Quite often, I smile at the younger students upon hearing their conversations and think to myself, “Oh just wait, this stress is nothing compared to what life may bring you.”

I find it unnatural to not reach out to help people, but then I remind myself these students came here to get away from their parents. I never realized I am middle-aged until returning to university. I am old enough to be a parent to most of my peers.

I have been mistaken for the prof. A couple of times I was called ‘ma’am’. That made me laugh.

What advice do you have for people thinking of returning to university?  

If you know the direction you wish to head in life, then do it, charge ahead and absolutely return to university. I love academics. I love the learning because it has so much meaning this time around. Age and life experience have helped me immensely to be a better student. The cliché of ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ definitely does not apply here. University this time around does not feel like stress, or work or strife; I truly enjoy the learning.

Cynthia Beck’s goal is to open her own practice offering mental health services for people in remote areas. If you’re thinking of returning to university, you will find plenty of support. About 20 per cent of U of R students are over 30 years of age. Feel free to connect with our Student Services office. We have people there to guide you through the application process. We look forward to seeing you on campus.