College students usually get stressed when they have major tests in their classes. And it seems that stress levels spike when midterms and finals are approaching. However, most students feel stressed almost all of the time. It is said that one out of five students say they feel stressed most of the time (1). Stress can cause other mental health issues like anxiety disorders and depression. Stress, along with these other mental health disorders, has major effects on students’ day to day lives, and even their future.
It is said that stress is a precursor to anxiety or depression disorders. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness, almost two-thirds of students drop out of school due to mental health reasons (1). Suicidal thoughts may be involved with these disorders. And 95 percent of suicides committed by students are related to anxiety and depression (1).
Stress, anxiety and depression levels in students have risen dramatically since the 1980s (2). This means that there is also an increase in those going to their university’s mental health centers, if they are provided. According to Boston University statistics, in the 2014-2015 school year, students seeking psychiatric evaluation went from 120 students to 134, and those coming in because of a crisis increased from 647 students to 906 students (3). It’s happening all over the country. The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 73.1 percent of counseling center directors reported an increase in the severity of student mental health concerns (3).
Radford University has a Student Counseling Services office located in the basement of Tyler Hall. They offer individual, couple and group psychotherapy, medication evaluations and management, professional consultations and other services (4). Their offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and their phone number is (540)-831-5226.
Mental health is one of the things that college students should take care of, especially in times of great stress. So, if you or someone you know is going through a rough patch, definitely try to make an appointment with the Counseling services; it could help you before things get too bad.
You’ve heard that phrase dozens of times, but it’s true: nobody is perfect. Everyone gets stressed. That’s the way humans are. The good news is that there are many ways to handle your stress levels. The first step is to acknowledge that you can’t always function at 100 percent. Mistakes happen and that’s okay.
In your relationships, don’t walk on eggshells. If something is bothering you, let others know. It causes a high level of anxiety to hide your true feelings. It’s healthy to communicate how you feel about a situation and it brings about more solid relationships when you are able to be honest with another person.
Physical aspects also affect your mental state. Getting regular sleep and exercise can do wonders to help your state of mind. In addition, a healthy diet goes a long way. If there is too much going on for you to handle, trim the fat. Cut out unnecessary activities that eat away possible relaxation time.
If you haven’t already, ask yourself this question: Where does my stress come from? Often enough, it comes from trying to control the impossible. For example, you can’t control your professor that loves to give out pop quizzes. However, you can control yourself. If you learn that you have a spontaneous professor, always be prepared for that class by studying beforehand.
Be realistic about what you are capable of. You can’t do everything, nor be in two places at once, unless you have a cloning machine. Organize your schedule as such. Factor your bills into this stress management exercise as well. Keeping track of your money and where it needs to go can prevent future economic crisis and panic.
Focus on things that you like to do. Do what makes you happy. There are many hobbies that’ll make you forget your troubles and unwind. Some choose to unwind by using alcohol or drugs. However, those are only momentary distractions. It’s important to learn what really helps you the most, even if you have to go through some trials and errors. For example: meditation, jogging, yoga, and counseling. No matter where you go, your mental state will follow you, because you haven’t yet broken your pattern that causes you distress. Solve your problems, instead of hiding them.
Don’t forget that there are professionals here on campus you can talk to for free. You can make an appointment with a counselor in the lower level of Tyler Hall.
Senior Alex Vincent had to attend AA meetings all summer after his parents realized his grades had dropped drastically. They thought he was partying too much and had him go to the meetings as a preventative measure. He said he didn’t think he had an alcohol problem, but the meetings helped open his eyes to the seriousness and danger of alcoholism.
“I liked those meetings,” Vincent said. “Those people tell the truth, and it was really eye opening for me. It made [me] realize I want to finish school and not drink too much.”
Drinking on college campuses is an issue that has been discussed and debated by universities all over the country. Most universities focus on safety and alcohol awareness to reduce the chances of death from alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related deaths by making the information available to students about the dangers of drinking, but alcoholism can be overlooked.
Brandi Brown, a dining services manager for three years, said she has worked with employees who have had issues with alcohol.
“When you start to show up late to work, or miss work or show up to work drunk, then you have a problem,” Brown said. “We don’t care what you do off the clock, but when it starts affecting what you do on the clock, then it’s a problem. We know students party, but if it’s affecting them working, we can’t allow that and technically it’s not our place, but usually if it gets that far, they need help.”
A recent Harvard University study found that 6% of college students meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. Alcoholism is defined by alcoholism-and-drug-addiction-help.com as a condition in which a dependence on alcohol harms a person’s health, social functioning or family life.
Head of New Student Programs, Michael Richardson, faces the issue of alcoholism in students on a regular basis. He said the university is always trying to think of new ways to help students who face issues like addiction and substance dependence.
“The threat of alcoholism in college students is at an all-time high,” Richardson said. “Countless students have no idea they have an alcohol problem and think they are just being a college kid and having fun. It is a never-ending concern for Radford University.”
Freshman Shawn Longwood said he drinks to get drunk often and has blacked out several times, which can both be signs of alcoholism.
“I’m not worried about being an alcoholic,” he said. “I’m just partying, man. I mean, I’m in college at Radford. I’m just trying to have fun.”
In recent years, Radford University has made an effort to educate students on the dangers of underage and binge drinking. The death of Radford University student Sam Mason due to alcohol poisoning in 2010 helped raise awareness and made the dangers real for many students. Programs have been set up so students will be more aware. In 2009, the university implemented the alcohol.edu program, where students take a short online class about alcohol awareness and they have to pass the class before they can register for classes. If students get a drug or alcohol charge at RU, they are also required to take an alcohol/substance abuse class, and they have the option of individual counseling as well. If a student feels they need counseling, the Substance Abuse and Violence Education Support (SAVES) office has counselors available for help and support.
Susie Ramsland is a senior psychology major at the University of Mary Washington who lives with a variety of psychological illnesses. She has a panic/anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and major depressive episodes, and she chooses to go without any medication. She is majoring in psychology because she wants the people she encounters to be able to relate to her and learn from her experiences.
“At one point my panicking got so bad that I couldn’t even get behind the wheel of a car,” Ramsland said. “I was the only 17-year-old at my high school who wasn’t learning to drive, and I was too afraid to tell people what was going on because I knew they would see me differently — I mean, it’s high school.”
This is when Ramsland decided it was time to see a psychologist, and she said therapy did wonders for her. After her first few visits, Ramsland started working with her therapist to discover the root of her fears, and after several sessions her therapist started to walk her through different ways to deal with her anxiety.
“She told me that she has a lot of patients my age and that I should get comfortable with everything I have because it’s a part of who I am, and it doesn’t make me any less of a great person,” Ramsland said. “She also said that the people who really care about me wouldn’t care. I was really determined to be confident again so I swallowed my worry and I became really open about everything. I ended up being really surprised because it turned out the more I talked about it, the more people wanted to know.”
Mental illness isn’t the terrifying diagnosis it used to be, and in today’s society more college-aged people are seeking therapy and answers.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five college students is living with a psychological illness, so at a school like Radford University with a population of about 10,000 students, around 2,000 are living with a psychological illness. NAMI provided other statistics that said one out of three college-aged people said they have lived with “prolonged periods of serious depression” and one out of every four said they have had suicidal thoughts.
NAMI has recently begun a push for parents to talk to their teens about mental illnesses so they are aware and prepared for the independence and psychological stress that accompanies college life. The main point is to keep an open dialogue with young adults in order to identify what they are feeling and whether those feelings are signs of something bigger. Almost half of college-aged people polled by NAMI reported that they have poor mental health, while only 25% of parents reported any behavior that they thought could be a warning sign.
The biggest issue is awareness; parents are often unaware, so they don’t know how to prepare their children, and in turn, their children go away just fine and come back with an undiagnosed case of depression or anxiety, and neither parent nor student knows how to handle it.
Many universities are becoming more aware of the conditions their students are affected by and have stepped up their support programs and the availability of university-employed counselors.
Schools like Radford University and Virginia Tech offer student health and counseling services to their students for little to no charge in hopes that students will take advantage of the opportunity to get help early.
As reported in a previous article, Radford University’s Director of Student Counseling Services Erin Sullivan said the number of students seeking counseling with her department increased by nearly 48% from the 2007-2008 year to 2009-2010.
The programs offered by schools are not usually meant to be long term, but they are able to refer students to long-term therapists and psychologists. Radford University offers counseling for individuals, couples and groups in hopes that therapy will relieve the stress that many students experience every day. They offer medication evaluation and management, so students can have a professional available when they have questions and concerns about their personal health. Radford University also provides educational services to its students for free. This service informs students about a variety of subjects from mental health issues to stress management, anxiety, depression, sexual health, alcohol and substance use, and nutrition.
Jennifer Simpson, a Resident Assistant at Radford University, said that she has had her fair share of experiences with mental illnesses.
“Even before I was an RA, I knew residents with mental illnesses,” Simpson said. “One of my good friends suffered from OCD, bipolar disorder, insomnia, paranoia and addiction, but she was a great person. She had episodes, and I was there for her during those […] It was rough, but I was her friend and I wasn’t going to abandon her when she needed me.”
Simpson’s friend left Radford University, but her experience taught her a lot about mental illness and what some people go through in silence.
“I became an RA because I wanted to be the person someone could come to, trust and confide in,” Simpson said. “My residents know I accept them, I’m here to help them and I want them to succeed. I like being the catalyst for some of them; I don’t push them, but I make sure they all know what resources are out there and that I am willing to personally take them if they need me to.”
Many schools like RU are working to provide the services that will keep their students healthy, both mentally and physically; and according to the statistics, more students are taking advantage of those services than ever before. The issue is being addressed by schools, but according to NAMI, the dialogue has to start at home and awareness needs to start early. An open atmosphere will foster healthier more successful individuals and the first step is knowledge and understanding.