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Answers from a Mental Health Expert

In a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 1.6 million college students sought counseling in the past year. According to Christine Gidycz, director of the graduate program in clinical psychology, the number of students at Ohio University seeking mental health services is on the rise.

Below, Gidycz discusses mental health issues on the Ohio University campus, local resources and positive coping mechanisms.

What are some factors that affect a student's mental health?

College is a time when students experience substantial change and growth. While it can be an exciting time, it is a period when students can experience a significant amount of stress. For many students, it may be the first time that they have lived away from their families, the academics may be more difficult than what they experienced in high school and they may feel pressure to fit in. Further, it is a time when students are developing greater intimacy in their relationships than they have in the past. Additionally, students have multiple responsibilities to "juggle" and they may have a difficult time prioritizing their responsibilities. These stressful circumstances can become worse when students drink or use drugs in excess, are sleep deprived, and do not eat healthy or exercise.

Why are college campuses seeing a rise in the number of students with mental health problems?

In our society there are a number of stressors that many college students are likely to experience which can lead to mental health problems. Such stressors include family dysfunction, psychological, physical, or sexual abuse, and relationship difficulties. Although such problems have occurred in our society for a long time, I think that college students are more likely to go for help than they were in previous years. Because of good educational and outreach efforts, there is less of a stigma associated with receiving mental health care than in the past. Thus, while the frequency of mental health issues has likely increased somewhat over the past years, it is also important to keep in mind that more people are going for help. This is good news.

There are other factors that contribute to the rise in students seeking mental health services. For example, currently there are a number of effective medications for fairly commonly occurring conditions (e.g., Prozac to treat depression). This has allowed students who experience such conditions to function well enough that they can attend college. Since a combination of psychotherapy and medication can be a good course of treatment for students, mental health personnel on college campuses are increasingly likely to come into contact with individuals who without the medication may not have been well enough to attend college.

What are some ways for students to deal with stress?

When students are experiencing stress, they need to try to first evaluate the source of their stress. Are they stressed out because they are managing their time poorly? Or are they drinking too much or not performing well academically? Sometimes, if they can change their behavior (e.g., studying more) their stress-related feelings will decrease. Getting more sleep, taking time to relax, or talking to friends or family may help them to feel better. However, if they cannot identify the source of their stress or they feel that they are not able to function well because of the stress, they should seek help.

What should an Ohio University student do if they think their friend has a mental health problem?

The best thing to do is to be supportive. Let them know that you are there to listen and to try to be helpful. Keep in mind, however, that you are not a professional and that it may be in your friend's best interest to seek professional support.

If your friend is experiencing any thoughts of suicide, make sure that you talk to them about it and try to get them to seek services at the campus mental health agencies. In instances where you are concerned that your friend might act on suicidal thoughts, tell a person in authority (such as an RA) immediately. 

If they do go to talk with someone, ask if they want you to walk them to their appointment or go with them. The most important thing to do is let your friend know that you care about them and want to help them or facilitate them getting help from a professional.

Are there any ways to prevent a mental health problem?

There is no sure way to prevent a mental health problem. Adopting a healthy lifestyle and developing good coping skills are ways to try to minimize the impact of stress. Students should also avoid using substances in excess and use the campus resources available to them if they feel overwhelmed.

What are the most common mental health problems that affect Ohio University students?

There are a variety of mental health problems that affect college students, including Ohio University students. Common mental health issues include depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, and substance use issues. Although these are the most common, agencies on campus treat students with a variety of problems that vary in severity. If a student is experiencing a problem such as sadness or anxiety that is interfering with his or her functioning, it is a good idea to seek help. Two places to seek confidential help for mental health issues on Ohio University's campus are:

Counseling and Psychological Services located on the third floor of the Campus Care Clinic: 593-1616.
The Psychology and Social Work Clinic located in the basement of Porter Hall: 593-0902.