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Students should seek help for substantial stress levels

May 6, 2015

A significant number of college students around the country are struggling with mental health issues including depression and anxiety, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Nationally, 25 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. Additionally, 75 percent of lifetime cases begin before the age of 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Jessica Conklin is a UW-River Falls sophomore and the social and marketing coordinator for UWRF Active Minds, a student organization that aims to remove the stigma around mental illness. She said that she is not surprised by that statistic.

“It shocks me, but it doesn’t shock me,” Conklin said. “A lot of people don’t like to open up about it so it shocks me in that number, but it doesn’t shock me that the number is that big.”

Jennifer Herink, a licensed professional counselor at UWRF Counseling Services, explained that a lot of individual factors go into one’s struggle with mental illness, but there are some common concerns faced by college students.

“Coming to college, it’s challenging to have all those new expectations and requirements on their life and being able to juggle and balance different things like school and friends and homework,” Herink said. “Things are different in college as far as studying, so you have to adapt to that. Sometimes that’s when mental health will spike with stress.”

In the healthy minds survey published by Student Health and Counseling Services in 2012, 49 percent of UWRF students reported feeling overwhelmed by everything they had to do in the last two weeks of classes.

Conklin said that she struggled when she first came to UWRF. She said that being on her own for the first time and being four and a half hours away from home was overwhelming, but she sought help and it made a big difference.

Unfortunately, students don’t always seek help. Nationally, 12 percent of college students received treatment for depression and 14 percent for anxiety in the past year, compared to the 20 percent of students at UWRF who did the same.

Conklin said she believes that the stigma surrounding mental health is a big part of why some students may be hesitant to seek help. In the healthy minds survey, 50 percent of UWRF students said that they believed that most people see seeking treatment for mental health as a sign of personal failure, while 97 percent said that they would accept someone who had received treatment as a close friend.

If a student does make an appointment with Counseling Services, Herink said that the first step is a meeting with Assistant Director of Counseling Services Jennifer Elsesser or another counselor. During the meeting, the individual needs of the student are assessed and the student will be referred either to a counselor on-campus or a specialty counselor off-campus. According to Herink, it takes less than two weeks for a student to be seen by a counselor after the initial appointment.

For students who are feeling stressed out, Herink suggested talking to family members and making lasting friendships. She also suggested being active on campus and reaching out to people, along with regularly exercising and getting enough sleep.

Student Health and Counseling Services expect to have updated survey data available on its website before the beginning of the fall semester.