Universities tackle millennial mental health

Megan Zendek/ Fourth Estate

Megan Zendek/ Fourth Estate

Rachel Shubin, Staff Writer

Many college students struggle with mental health difficulties and diagnoses like anxiety and depression seem to be on the rise. Fortunately, Mason and other Virginia universities are doing their best to tackle this issue.

According to Daphne Watkins, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, “Evidence suggests that the mental health problems of students are more severe now that they have been in the past.” However, this increase in prevalence may not be as bad as it sounds, because it may stem from the fact that “a greater number of students are seeking help,” according to Watkins, who added that mental disorders often develop during young adulthood.

Getting support for one’s mental health is especially important during college, Watkins explained, since college is a pivotal point in life. Students’ success relies on good mental health.

Mason offers free counseling and psychological services for students at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in SUB I. Students can visit with clinical psychologists, social workers, counselors, learning specialists and psychiatric providers. CAPS offers individual sessions and group workshops in addition to crisis support.

Having outside support is essential to college success. Senior Tod Mohney said that the counseling office is a great tool for those struggling to adjust to college life.

“I have a friend who used CAPS during freshman year in order to handle the transition from high school to college,” Mohney said. “CAPS worked with them to find a solution to better manage their anxiety and stress and find different organizations for them to join and make friends.”

Mason has spread the word to students that CAPS is there to support them when they need it. Aaron Yohai, a senior government and international politics major, agrees with DeSouza that students are widely aware of the services CAPS has to offer.

“It’s great that students with mental illnesses, those who experience anxiety or those who require support to get out of abusive relationships have a place for support,” Yohai said. “The counseling office is a safe space for students to receive help with personal issues.”

Not all students agree that CAPS provides adequate support.

“I have not personally gone to CAPS, but I know a few people who have,” Jeramey Kwan, a senior communication major, said. “Mason cares more about money than its students.”

CAPS sent an email to students on April 19 regarding exam stress. The email discussed the stress that students may feel at this time in the semester and addressed the “numerous acts of violence and tragic losses across the globe, which intensify our emotional experience and can make us more vulnerable to the effects of stressors.”

The email did clarify, however, that stress is not completely bad, since it can help students stay focused and motivated. Stress becomes a problem only when it reduces one’s ability to function effectively, leading to self-harm, depression or thoughts of suicide. To combat this sort of dangerous stress, the email suggested students try a number of different coping mechanisms and provided contact information for emergency support. The email also suggested ideas for how students can address concerns they have about their fellow students.

Professors at Mason are aware of the stress students face. “I have referred my students to CAPS,” Dr. Laura Poms, assistant professor of epidemiology, said. “Many students don’t realize the broad services CAPS offers. That is what those student fees cover.”

Poms said she is also aware of the stigma attached to seeking help, and she tries to reduce that in her classroom.

“If I sense a lot of stress and anxiety in a class or in a student in a class that I don’t have a very close relationship with, I do a general class announcement about what CAPS offers, such as managing test anxiety, study skills, time management, that often help anxiety around school performance issues in addition to counseling services,” Poms said.

Mason is one of many universities in Virginia that is working to improve the mental health of its students. James Madison University also has a free counseling center that offers individual and group services, sexual trauma empowerment programs and a peer mentor program.

“It’s common knowledge among students that the counseling center is there,” Lindsay Rossum, a senior health sciences major at JMU, said. “I have used the services all four years. It’s a center that a lot of students utilize.”

Rossum was able to work with the same counselor for four years at JMU.

“My counselor was crucial to my being able to better articulate, understand and cope with my emotions,” Rossum said. “She helped me identify the entirety of the factors that caused my struggle.”