Late-semester blues: Mental health experts talk student wellness
John J.B. Allen, distinguished professor of psychology, is an expert on mood and anxiety disorders. According to Allen, six percent of college students display the symptoms of mental disorders.
With finals and graduation around the corner, stress is high, sleep is low and people around the university are starting to feel the effects. With so many individual stressors, it is important to take a moment to self-assess your emotional and mental wellbeing. However, there are many different factors that play into mental health issues, and oftentimes these illnesses are not easily recognizable, even though they have a large impact on the lives of many. Even the people closest to those affected may not be aware of the problems they are facing.
Some of the most prominent mental health issues among students are depression, anxiety disorder, substance abuse and eating disorders. Although these disorders can be partially attributed to stress, this answer is not exclusive and many other factors are involved. The stress of school, jobs and relationships can work to perpetuate a disorder.
John J.B. Allen is a UA psychology distinguished professor whose work focuses on mood and anxiety disorders.
“[Depressed] people don’t have the energy; they can’t focus; they can’t concentrate as well; its harder to prioritize things,” Allen explained. “Similarly, with anxiety, they spend a lot of their time worrying about the negative outcomes, so much that it interferes with their ability to actually make a good, tangible plan for how to meet the deadline.”
As important as recognizing the symptoms of mental disorders is understanding their causation. Particularly for students, there is often a vicious cycle at play.
Students often feel as though they can meet every expectation across the areas of family, friends, education and work; when the pressure eventually proves to be overwhelming, this can sometimes result in mental issues that make these responsibilities even more intimidating and uncontrollable.
According to Allen, “at any given time, 6 percent of the college students are going to be depressed; 6 percent at any one time would actively experience enough of those [symptoms] to meet diagnostic criteria.”
Another issue facing students with mental illnesses is the feeling that they don’t have anyone to talk to and that there is stigma behind their illness.
“Run-of-the-mill depression and anxiety—particularly with the population I deal with, medical students—they’re all pretty high-functioning to be able to get through here, and they’re good at masking it because they don’t want other people to see it,” said Dr. Lawrence Moher, a UA professor in the college of medicine, family and community medicine and physician consultant for Campus Health Service.
It is because of this that many people will live their daily lives without anyone knowing that they have any type of mental illness whatsoever. Often, the person themselves is not aware of the problems they are facing.
“Even people who are bipolar [may] not recognize the fact they haven’t been able to sleep for four nights as a possible symptom of mania,” Moher explained. “It’s not that they’re not obvious, but sometimes people just aren’t aware that those are mental health issues that could be treatable.”
When people themselves are not aware of the symptoms they are presenting, often the people who know them best might be aware of the issue. However, friends and loved ones can sometimes be afraid to deal with the issue of mental illness.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of mental illness,” Allen said. “People with mental illness want friends; people with mental illness want support. [People should] suggest to their friend who has some symptoms of depression or anxiety or substance abuse, ‘go talk to somebody at [Counseling and Psych Services].’ If their friends are talking suicidality, they should take those thoughts seriously and not be afraid to talk about them.”
What students should know is that there are many resources for them on campus, whether they feel depressed or just a little stressed out. Campus Health offers many different groups to help students with any mental problems they may be facing.
Most notably, Counseling and Psych Services here at the UA has daily walk-in hours. There are also workshops that students can attend, which include the Grad Student Stress Management Workshop and Test Anxiety Workshop. CAPS is additionally starting an initiative called the Mindful Ambassadors, which serves the purpose of stress reduction through mindfulness meditation.
Whether a student wants to address a serious condition or just wants someone to talk to, there are a number of different resources around campus that students can and should use to their full advantage.