Lyndsey Wajert: Steps for seeking help

This is the author’s second column detailing the rise of mental health issues among college students and what resources schools across the country have provided to address the problem.

Imagine returning to your residence hall after Thanksgiving break to find your roommate in tears over a breakup with her high school boyfriend of three years.

You try to convince her that she will be able to move on, that she just needs some time. But even upon returning from winter break, she has yet to get better. She isn’t eating, she isn’t going to classes and her goal every weekend is to drink so much she can’t remember why she was upset in the first place.

You begin to wonder: Can the sting of an ended relationship turn into long-term depression? When does the phrase “I can’t live without him” signal a deeper problem?

More and more of us are faced with difficult questions (like these) about mental health, as doctors around the country have noticed a rise in mental health issues among college students.

Dr. Rachel Glick, the associate chair of Clinical and Administrative Affairs and a clinical professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, believes there are two sides to this trend.

“First, colleges across the country have reported an increase in the number of students seeking help,” she said. “Second, mental health professionals have seen an increase in the number of college students with various long-term conditions such as depression.”

In my last column, I examined the measures GW’s University Counseling Center has taken to address the trend. But this increase has affected the entire nation, and it is important to look at what other schools are doing to ensure that no matter the reason, all students who seek any type of mental health-related assistance can find it.

Take for example our D.C. neighbors. Georgetown’s Counseling and Psychiatric Service provides resources for concerned roommates, friends, teammates, and classmates. This option is listed directly on the home page of the service’s Web site, along with resources for parents and faculty. Offering information to concerned students is very important, as it is often difficult for the affected individual to recognize when he or she needs to make an appointment. With this option, students can find answers to their mental health-related questions without having to force friends or teammates to call CAPS. Instead, a student can go on the Web site or call to learn the best way to approach a sensitive situation. This resource allows both the concerned student and the troubled student to acquire help in an appropriate way.

Other schools offer similarly notable resources. At Boston College, counseling services are provided to full-time students free of charge. New York University’s Student Health Center offers its students a “Relaxation Oasis” on its Web site that features yoga tips and calming songs.

Along with the typical educational services such as depression awareness events, faculty training and online screening, many colleges are trying to make their counseling centers more accessible and less intimidating. Professional help does not always have to be one-on-one sessions, as many centers sponsor peer counseling programs and host group meetings.

These are just a few steps schools are taking to address the national trend, though Glick says that there is no prescribed program for colleges to implement.

“Every campus may offer different options,” she notes. “But it is up to the school to decide what will work best for students.”

And while it is important to address the rising number of college students facing mental health issues, the treatment most schools can provide is vital in deterring such tragic outcomes as suicide. Yet according to Dr. Morton Silverman of the National Suicide Prevention Technical Research Center, the trend of suicide among college students has not mirrored the trend in mental health issues.

“There has been no documented rise in college student suicides,” Silverman said in an e-mail. “The few studies that have been done have consistently shown that college student suicide rates are much lower than they are in the general population (matched for age, gender, and race).”

Regardless, Silverman does encourage schools to do everything they can to work to lower the stigma surrounding professional help and address severe depression and the risk of suicide.

Silverman said schools should raise awareness about the symptoms of severe depression and the possibility of suicide, educate faculty on warning signs, and improve cooperation among students, campus police and staff, all to “ensure that students in distress are identified and receive appropriate services.”

So whether your roommate is emotionally torn after a breakup or you are the one troubled by a long-term condition, schools across the country, including GW, are providing ways to get better. As our generation takes on more stress and anxiety, we need to remember that, while there are many symptoms of sadness, it only takes one phone call to get help.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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