Mental health services on college campuses get a lot of attention after huge tragedies like suicides or incidents such as the Virginia Tech shooting, but these issues are often ignored during the normal, day-to-day shuffle of college life.

Yet mental health problems are, in fact, an important component of daily college life. The University Counseling Center reports that, based on a 2007 survey of 1,342 UR students, one in three students has struggled with at least one mental health condition, while one in six has seriously considered or attempted suicide. Dagmur Kaufmann, outreach coordinator at UCC, attributes this high prevalence of depression and anxiety on the UR and other college campuses to both environmental and biological factors.

‘College is a stressful place with lots of challenges and expectations,” she said. ‘But also the age when people typically start college is right about when most people experience their first episode [of depression].” Additionally, she said, ‘Because of better diagnostic and treatment options, students are now able to attend college who wouldn’t have been able to in the past… It means we see an increased need for mental health services on campus.”

The fact that the stresses of college, as well as simply being of college age, can trigger depression and other mental health issues makes it all the more important to keep up a discourse on these topics. Mental health is not just an issue that comes up at times of crisis that is consistently a part of every college student’s life in some way. For this reason, UCC and a new student group devoted to mental health issues called Active Minds are teaming up to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and to foster just this type of discussion on the UR campus.

Active Minds was started this year by KEY scholar Caitlin Powalski and senior Novall Kahn. Its founding marks an important step toward keeping mental health issues at the forefront of the University’s consciousness by fostering peer-to-peer help and working to make it acceptable to seek professional counseling.

‘We want to make people aware of the resources that are on and off campus and what it means when someone says mental health,” Powalski said. The group will be working to make these resources ‘less intimidating” and more widely used.

‘More people doing it will make [students] feel that it’s OK to look at their own mental health,” Powalski added.

Additionally, the group will be working to ensure that students will be able to recognize the signs of mental health problems among their friends and encourage these friends to seek treatment. ‘Often friends are on the front line, and if they can’t recognize it, how can anyone get help?” she said.

Active Minds is an especially important resource for combating mental health problems on campus because it is forging a partnership with UCC, which can provide actual treatment to all UR students. Active Minds provides a means through which students can be directed by their peers to the counseling center, especially if they may not have been previously inclined to seek professional help.

UCC is also doing its part to reduce the stigma and difficulty that may have previously been associated with seeking counseling.

They have moved their offices to a more convenient location in the new UHS building, which alone has already caused weekly visits to the UCC to double this year.

Active Minds and UCC, with help from a few other student organizations on campus, have already begun initiatives to live up to their goals of spreading awareness and decreasing the stigma associated with mental health problems.

Their first major project was setting up a table in Wilson Commons at which students could take a depression-screening test; this reached 130 students this year compared with only about 20 in previous years.

They also teamed up to bring in Eric Weaver, a local cop who had gone through his own episode of depression, to present a lecture on ‘beating the blues.”

As the year goes on, a number of other initiatives will be taken as well, such as spreading awareness for National Eating Disorders Week, another depression-screening and events dedicated to general psychological self-care.

Hopefully, the efforts of the UCC and Active Minds will succeed in making mental health an issue that is not just discussed in times of crisis, but rather ingrained into our day-to-day discourse.

Considering the prevalence of mental health issues on college campuses and the availability of myriad psychological services here at UR, the logical next step is to increase awareness and encourage the seeking of help for any problems that may occur.
UCC and Active Minds are already working to take this next step as they foster a connection between counselors and students, and bring about an ongoing conversation about mental health issues.

Healy is a member of the class of 2011.

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