College stress deteriorates mental health

William Evans

The environment of college life can trigger emotional disturbances in some students who will contemplate suicide as an escape mechanism from the troubles they are facing, said Margaret Garner, director of the department of Health Promotion and Wellness.

“This is a national issue,” she said. “There is a trend toward greater incidences of mental health problems when students are coming out of the gates of high school.”

While high school offers a ready-made social life and routine to enter into, college can encourage withdrawal and isolation when friends are hard to come by, especially for students with preexisting medical conditions that predispose them to depression or anxiety.

“College is not year 13,” Garner said.

Garner said students who enter college with prescriptions sometimes skip taking their medications so as to conceal their medical conditions from other people.

“They will go on what we call ‘medication vacations,’” she said.

Garner said the Student Health Center and the Counseling Center can be resources for students who are experiencing signs of emotional unbalance.

Michelle Harcrow, assistant director of health education and promotion for the department of Health Promotion and Wellness, said the triggers for suicidal inclinations in college students depend upon the individual in question.

However, she said student involvement is an effective tool to connect students with the campus community so as to foster feelings of belonging.

She said the University also offers an online, free program known as MentalHealthEdu that students as well as faculty and staff are encouraged to learn from.

The program instructs the user on what appropriate actions should be taken to assist an individual suffering from particular symptoms of emotional distress.

The website for the program, mentalhealthedu.ua.edu, states, “During a 12-month period, 42 percent of college students nationwide felt so depressed at times that is was difficult to function and 9 percent had seriously considered suicide.

“MentalHealthEdu will provide tools and information to administrators, faculty, staff, graduate assistants and student workers in hopes that they may be able to identify and refer students who may be distressed to appropriate campus resources.”

Garner said the intent of the program is to stimulate awareness of the pivotal role mental well-being plays in the life of a student.

“We want to increase the awareness of, appreciation of, and advocacy for the critical importance of mental well-being,” she said.

Harcrow also said the Mental Health Strategic Team partnered with the student organization Project Health, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to coordinate a walk last October that was dedicated to raising awareness about student suicides.

Evan Ward, a resident adviser for Blount Hall and a junior majoring in history, said resident advisers bear a measure of responsibility for the welfare of their residents.

“The best way to combat the problem [of student suicide] is for RAs to be vigilant,” he said. “It falls on the RA to be watchful and to integrate residents on campus and help them to adjust to college.”

Ward said RAs undergo a week-long training session that teaches them, among other things, how to recognize and handle residents with suicidal inclinations.

“A big part of an RAs job is to refer students to resources the University has to offer—the Counseling Center being one of them,” he said. “We’re told that if we suspect that anyone is capable of hurting themselves, we are to immediately contact someone for help.”