In a world where more than 42% of college students experience depression and feelings of hopelessness and where the number of college students on psychiatric medications has risen more than 10 percentage points in as many years, a healthy college experience isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind.
Universities often attempt to address this by offering free counseling services to students. Nearly a third of college students have taken advantage of some form of mental-health counseling, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Vicki Arbuckle, psychiatric nurse practitioner and assistant director of psychiatry at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., said students at her school are making use of university resources.
“Last year we had 19,599 student appointments — 2,930 students,” she said.
This may be due to a change in student attitude toward seeking out counseling, said Erin Sullivan, licensed clinical social worker and director of Student Counseling Services at Radford University (RU) in Radford, Va.
“Our numbers have greatly increased over the past six years I have been here, and I think that is partly due to the greater recognition that seeking help is a strength and not a weakness,” she said.
Students are starting to realize it’s just as important to take care of their minds as well as their bodies, at least if Cori Sieviec, a sophomore at RU majoring in graphic design, is any indication.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” she said. “If a student is having troubles that are affecting their schooling, or if they’re simply feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do, it’s great to get everything off their chest and hear an unbiased point of view.”
Sieviec also pointed out that counselors can help where talking to friends may not cut it.
“Friends are great, but sometimes they wind up telling you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear,” she said.
Erin Clingenpeel, a junior at RU majoring in English, did her homework before starting college.
“I did some research on the counseling services before I came here because I have a long history of bipolar disorder,” she said. While she found RU’s counseling center helpful, Clingenpeel also stressed its limitations.
“For a little anxiety or depression, they’re really helpful,” she said. “But one thing people should know is that they’re not intended for long-term use. If you need treatment for something like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you’ll have to go outside the school for it.”
Even students who need more intensive or long-term help than university resources can provide can benefit from visiting their school counseling center though, Clingenpeel said, because the counseling center may have resources to help students get set up with outside counseling.
But while universities are making an effort to help students maintain and improve their mental health, students need to put in some effort, too. Sullivan appealed to students not to make things worse by avoiding the issue.
“If a student ‘doesn’t have the time’ to get counseling, I would ask how bad does it have to get before it’s worth making the time,” she said. “Many students are able to work through issues by increasing self-care, talking with friends and family and doing therapeutic activities such as artwork, journaling, exercising. If these things are not working, then it’s time to seek professional help.”
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