Students and campus initiatives work on mental health issues, reducing stress

Megan Fischer

For Spencer Nolan, mental health became important after his cousin committed suicide during Nolan’s freshman year of college. Since then, it became personal for him to make sure those around him struggling with mental illness had the appropriate resources available to them.

The CSU Health Network, the Associated Students of Colorado State University and various groups around campus commit themselves to helping those struggling with stress, anxiety and mental health. With final exams wedging their way into student’s schedules, self-care should be a priority, according to groups on campus.

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Many students across college campuses will deal with stress and anxiety at some point through their college career. The National Alliance for Mental Illness says one in five people will have a diagnosed mental illness or mental health issue in a given year. (Photo Illustration by: Megan Fischer)
Many students across college campuses will deal with stress and anxiety at some point through their college career. The National Alliance for Mental Illness says one in five people will have a diagnosed mental illness or mental health issue in a given year. (Photo Illustration by: Megan Fischer)

“We have a huge population of students here and it means that people are suffering in silence and they don’t have to be,” said Spencer Nolan, 2016-17 incoming director of health for ASCSU.

ASCSU’s Health Department added a mental health committee this year, and the department received an increase in funding for next year specifically to add resources to mental health initiatives.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in five people will have a diagnosed mental illness or mental health issue in a given year. 

Students have professional resources available to them when they experience stress, anxiety or depression at any point during the year. According to the CSU Health Network’s Manager of Mental Health Initiatives Janelle Patrias, students have five counseling sessions through Counseling Services that are already paid for by their student fees. In addition, there are free groups students can take part in, and students can utilize the YOU@CSU services available to them.

“Based on the National College Health Assessment, stress and anxiety are the top two factors impacting student success in a negative way, followed by sleep,” Patrias said. “I think that as the semester wraps up and people feel more academic pressures, the first thing to go is that yoga class or going to the gym. We give way to our self-care practices when we feel stressed and busy, and unfortunately that’s actually not serving us well.”

Patrias said that counseling services sees a steady increase of students throughout the academic year, and that it is important do activities like go to the gym, maintain social connections and even take study breaks to help prevent a mental illness as a result of stress and anxiety.

“Sometimes it can be as simple as participating in a hobby that you enjoy; playing an instrument, listening to music, or painting,” Patrias said. “Things really can run awry pretty quickly when you shift all of your time and energy to studying and you stop doing all those things that are good for you.”

A certain amount of stress can serve as a motivational factor according to Director of Counseling Services Dr. Susan MacQuiddy. Yet, stress can easily come the the point where it becomes too much and performance can drop quickly.

Sometimes this point can come when students strive for one word: perfection.

“One of the things that I think happens for many folks is that they feel the need to be perfect, and as a result can get stressed because there’s not enough hours in the day to do everything in the quality that they would like to do,” MacQuiddy said. “Taking a step back and being realistic about what it is that you might actually be able to get done is a good thing. Be able to give yourself some time limits.”

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Another thing that can increase stress and anxiety, and reduce performance on exams, is last-minute studying, MacQuiddy said.

“If you get into that mode where you’re really cramming at the last minute it can increase your anxiety, and there’s a point where anxiety is not helpful to you and it decreases your performance,” MacQuiddy said.

A new CSU chapter of the Active Minds national campaign aimed this year to help students struggling with mental illness and stress, and to help reduce stresses for students, according to CSU Chapter President, Kayla Wong, a communication studies junior.

“I think (mental health) is important because it’s a very taboo topic that people don’t talk about,” Wong said.

According to Wong, the group collaborated with ASCSU to put on mental health awareness programs, such as Mindfullness Day on the CSU Plaza and leaving Sticky Notes with words of encouragement in various buildings during midterms week.

“I wanted to create a space for people to feel comfortable and safe to talk about what is really important,” Wong said.  “Mental health is just as important as physical health, but you can’t see it as obviously.”

Collegian Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @MegFischer04.