College Success: Keeping Up with Mental Health

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17 August, 2019

In many ways, the time spent seeking an education at a college or university can be some of the best years of a person's life.

College students are usually just entering adulthood. Their academic programs present them with all kinds of new information and ideas. And even given the many demands on their time from their studies, the students often have the freedom to explore their identities and other outside interests.

But a person's college years can also present difficulties. Sometimes, the challenges of academic success, making new friends and living far from home may feel like more than one person can deal with alone.

In fact, more and more college students in the United States have reported suffering from anxiety and depression, says Monica Osburn. She heads the Counseling Center and Prevention Services at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Osburn says it is important for students to have access to mental health services on campus. Off-campus options are likely too costly and difficult to get to for many students.

Monica Osburn, executive director of the Counseling Center and Prevention Services at North Carolina State University.
Monica Osburn, executive director of the Counseling Center and Prevention Services at North Carolina State University.

Research shows that having access to mental health services can help prevent students from dropping out of college, Osburn adds. Such services can make students feel more like their school really cares about them.

Osburn believes it is a good sign that more students are seeking mental health services. That means more of them are trying to find solutions to difficulties or problems they are facing.

"Half the battle, sometimes, is walking through the door, because there can be a lot of stigma with asking for help or receiving mental health counseling, especially if you are an international student who may not have counseling services at home," Osburn told VOA. "So being able to come in, ask questions, see what the office looks like, will go a long way in breaking down some of those barriers."

College students may struggle with many kinds of unhealthy behaviors. For example, they often ignore their need for sleep because they want to spend time with their friends. Or they might stay up all night to study for a big test.

One night of poor sleep may not be a major issue, Osburn says. But if it happens again and again, a student's mental health may suffer. The worst part, Osburn says, is that many students may not even recognize what they are experiencing as a mental health problem.

"A lot of students don't think about mental health and the outcomes there," said Osburn. "Their symptoms might look more like physical symptoms, like being physically sick ... when many of those could be symptoms of anxiety."

Osburn urges any student who is facing problems or experiencing feelings they do not understand to visit their school's counseling center. These centers employ trained mental health experts who will discuss these issues privately with the student.

Once a student meets with one of these experts, they can start to explore the things they are dealing with and what they might want from counseling. This can include general skills to deal with common problems or just talking through a given issue.

From there, students can plan ongoing individual meetings with a mental health expert. Or, the expert can connect the student with groups of students having similar problems, says Osburn. Campus counseling can sometimes even help students find the support they need elsewhere.

"Not every student needs therapy," she said. "But if a student comes in ... and we know they're struggling ... it might be related to food insecurity or some sort of financial issue ... Since we know the resources on campus so well, then we can connect that student with those resources, teach them ... how to work through those new systems ... and then problem-solve."

I'm Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor. We want to hear from you. What kinds of mental health services do colleges and universities in your country offer? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

academicadj. of or relating to schools and education

challenge(s) – n. a difficult task or problem

anxietyn. fear or nervousness about what might happen

campusn. the area and buildings around a university, college, or school

option(s) – n. a choice or possibility

stigman. a set of critical and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something

counselingn. advice and support that is given to people to help them deal with problems or make important decisions

outcome(s) – n. something that happens as a result of an activity or process

symptom(s) – n. a change in the body or mind which indicates that a disease is present

therapyn. the treatment of physical or mental illnesses