Mental health is a growing issue on college campuses across the nation. At Mercyhurst University, students and staff are aware of the mental distress young individuals may face during their four years of study.
A comprehensive study conducted by the American Psychiatric Association shows that mental health diagnosis rates in college students increased from 22 percent in 2007 to 36 percent in 2017.
With college students experiencing increased rates of mental health issues, understanding personal stressors and addressing them directly becomes important.
Gerard Tobin, Ph.D., a psychology professor and former counselor at Mercyhurst University, understands the mental health problems students may deal with.
“While we’ve prolonged life, there are a lot of stressors and without paying attention to them, those stressors take their toll and contribute not only to mental health issues, but to physical health issues as well,” Tobin said.
While mental health issues could arise from stress caused by school, others believe the rise in technology is another contributing factor to poor mental health.
Solveig Santillano, MFA, a dance professor at Mercyhurst University, believes the growth in global connectivity is creating further anxiety within college students.
“My perception is that there is a larger degree of fearfulness and anxiety that has been surfacing, and I think we’re looking at it in a global way with the many ways we’re interconnected now–we are just now starting to understand the ramifications of computers and the internet,” said Santillano.
Santillano also believes that the growth in technology can cause students to set expectations for themselves which can become unhealthy–especially if they are working towards a career.
“I’ve seen a lot of anxiety and depression, and I think some of it is our age, not all. It’s a challenging time period of finding one’s voice and constantly thinking about a life path, and I think there’s a certain expectation on having your career be a fixed point you’re going to arrive at,” said Santillano.
More specifically, the vast accessibility of social media can also play a significant role in mental health and the spread of its awareness.
Tobin thinks that social media usage can have advantages and disadvantages.
“I think social media has a huge role to play in this. It can be positive and negative,” Tobin said.
“Social media bullying has probably resulted in people choosing to end their life through suicide. Social media stuff can be incredibly positive in the messages it gets out. There is an opportunity for abuse as well,” said Tobin.
Emma Kleinmann, a sophomore Music Therapy major at Mercyhurst University, recently witnessed how social media can positively influence mental health and its awareness.
“I saw a lot of people post on their Instagram stories about the Suicide Awareness Month recently, and there were a lot of people I wouldn’t have thought would do that,” Kleinmann said.
“It just shows how anyone can have a mental illness, and even people who don’t, can be very supportive.”
As mental health diagnosis rates increase across college campuses in the United States, it is important to practice self-care and help those who are struggling.
Patricia Kowalski-Colvin BSN, RN, a nurse at the Mercyhurst University Cohen Health Center, provides excellent advice to students who may be struggling with anxiety and mental illness.
“Number one, it is totally okay to talk about your anxiety and important to do so. Number two, get connected with the counseling center on campus. Number three, medications may be part of the treatment. Many students still feel there is a stigma attached to taking medications for anxiety and depression. Number four, always know you can contact me,” said Kowalski-Colvin.
For Mitchell Marsh, a senior Hospitality Management major at Mercyhurst University, self-care involves letting your worries go and taking time to reflect on individual experiences.
“My idea of self-care is spending time with oneself where you’re not worried about the activities that you’re involved in and you’re just reflecting on different experiences; maybe I’m catching up with my friends, my family or I spend time reading a book, because that is something I’ve decided to get into lately, or if I just go for a walk or consider exercising, things like that I guess. So just spending time on yourself, for yourself,” said Marsh.
Mental health issues can become detrimental to an individual’s well-being and performance in school or at work if not properly addressed.
Two crucial steps of advice are what Tobin tells individuals who are witnessing someone suffering from mental illness.
“Number one, you want to be with them in a non-judgmental way,” Tobin said.
“They are suffering. They don’t need you to be telling them what to do. They need to be supported and cared for. Whether they are really invested in it or not, you want to try and facilitate getting them some help,” said Tobin.
Balancing a hectic schedule in college can often become stressful and raise the risk of mental illness.
However, the spread of mental health awareness informs students that it is important to talk about their problems and that support is readily available for them.