CSU students manage stress through activities, services

It can leave you in tears or gasping for breath. It can drive you to isolation and deteriorate your health. Stress is the number one mental health issue for college students, but you can fight back.

It’s no surprise that stress is the number one mental health issue among the collegiate demographic.

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“(It’s) really the cornerstone issue for students,” said Janelle Patrias, coordinator of mental health initiatives for CSU’s Counseling Services.

Stress encompasses academic performance, emotional issues, friend and family life and financial instability. The second most prevalent issues are depression and anxiety — problems that frequently co-mingle with each other and with stress.

Managing stress can be as simple as eating well and exercising, or it can extend to counseling sessions like those offered on the CSU campus.

“If somebody feels like it’d just be helpful to have some support, then that’s a perfect time to ask for help,” said Susan MacQuiddy, director of counseling services.

“Take care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, rather than holding your breath until winter break,” Patrias said.

Every person is guaranteed five counseling sessions each semester, paid for through student fees. There are also group sessions that are free to students on a weekly basis. According to Patrias, students are truly utilizing these opportunities.

“It’s hard to give exact numbers, but we see more than 13 percent of the total student population and that’s quite a bit higher than universities of similar size,” Patrias said.

Schools with similar enrollment see about six to 10 percent, according to Patrias.

For students with trepidation, MacQuiddy asserts that CSU respects the same privacy as professional doctors.

“It just shows up as a student health thing, it doesn’t necessarily appear to a parent that it was a mental health counseling session. Sometimes people want that to be more private,” Patrias said.

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The stigma of asking for help has lifted somewhat for our generation.

“We’re trying to send the message: be intentional about it. Don’t wait until you are really struggling before you do something positive for yourself to manage that. Whenever possible take a more proactive approach,” Patrias said.

Help can be making a simple phone call or taking a mindless break from work.

“You’ve got to find something you enjoy that’s brainless,” said sophomore Jason Platt.

Platt is a double major in biochemistry and biology, an R.A. and a member of the honors program at CSU.

“People don’t realize how important it is to have fun. If you’re trying to do all your stressful things in a row, it’s not going to be (easy),” Platt said.

Platt said he takes 15-minute breaks to long board during stressful days.

“We know that exercise is really valuable in managing stress. It doesn’t have to be exercise going to the gym, it can be walking around your building, or taking the stairs up and down a couple times when you’re really in that moment of feeling pretty overwhelmed,” Patrias said.

Ben Meise is a junior chemical and biological engineer who also participates in marching band. He puts six hours into practice on weekdays and on game days spends all day with the band.

“It’s all about planning for me,” Meise said. But he also views marching band as a welcome break from heavy classes.

“If you’re in a tough major, it helps you and the people around you to get involved. An extra curricular activity helps you break up the monotony,” Meise said.

However, he also values therapy and counseling for those who need extra support.

“It’s a God send,” Meise said. He has family who use counseling services and benefit from the opportunities.

Some students may experience anxiety out of fear of counseling. It takes dipping your toes in to relax, according to MacQuiddy.

“It took a lot of courage to get in the door and then it was easier than they thought,” MacQuiddy said.

“I don’t think you typically see a student walk through the doors and say, ‘I’m doing great! But, I just want to see what you have to offer.’  There’s typically more awareness of (the student) having a hard time,” Patrias said.

Students who need this support can rely on a team of counselors who specialize in collegiate stress. For those who need more than the five free sessions, additional sessions cost about $10.

“Lots of times students end up not paying anything,” MacQuiddy said.

In the end, it’s okay to ask for help.

“It’ll get easier,” MacQuiddy said. “We all have problems in living. We all have struggles.”

When stress and other issues become too much to handle, someone to talk to is just a phone call away.

“We have comfy chairs. No couches or someone stroking their beard,” MacQuiddy said.

“It’s not about laying down on a couch and interpreting your dreams,” Patrias said. “There are no psychoanalytic things going on here, it’s much more practical, skill-based support.”

Collegian Senior Reporter Mariah Wenzel can be reached at letters@collegian.com.