UCS Event: Students and Mental Health

Melanie Bisbach graphic

Melanie Bisbach graphic

University Counseling Services showed a mental health documentary on Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Markee Pioneer Student Center. After the documentary, Assistant Director and Counselor for UCS, Teresa Miller, held a brief discussion on the film’s content and shared information about counseling services available on campus.

The unscripted documentary interviewed six students with mental health concerns as they adjusted to their first semester of college. Each student discussed how they avoided confronting their mental health and how it worsened until they made a change to seek professional counseling. 

Miller concluded, “What they really want to encourage by developing this film is just for college students to pay attention to mental health … to promote the idea of what mental health might look like on campus, (and) what to maybe do when someone is experiencing a mental health challenge.”

The documentary opened with reflections made by the students. One student said, “I was very lonely. It was hard for me to adjust.” Another student grappled with the reasons for which they sought counseling and explained, “I was missing my family. I was feeling a little homesick. I think the first sign for me was that I was super tired … and so I started skipping class in order to sleep. I didn’t know at that point if I was comfortable enough to come forward and say ‘I’m just not feeling like myself.’”

Some of the students in the documentary tried to use college as a fresh start. A student who struggled with this said, “You don’t have to be a completely new person just because you go to college. The baggage that you had in high school might come with you to college and that’s totally okay. You don’t have to be the perfect person.” Through experience, the student learned the importance of confronting mental health rather than avoiding it.

Another one of the students described how college coursework actually created more stressors. For example, the student said, “If I fail this quiz, I’ll fail out of college. I’m never going to get a good job.” The stress students put on themselves to succeed can lead to a spiral of negativity. 

While addressing mental health, it is important to note the effects of alcohol consumption. One of the students discussed how drinking “when you’re feeling depressed can make the symptoms of depression and anxiety worse.”

As stated by the National Library of Medicine, “The greater the amounts of alcohol consumed and the more regular the intake, the more likely a person will be to develop temporary anxiety and depressive symptoms. As consumption increases even more, these symptoms also are likely to intensify.” 

The student added, “There’s a science behind depression. It’s not just something you make up in your head. It’s very real.” 

The documentary showed that communication with friends can be part of the process of caring for mental health. One of the students said that his friends noticed a change, became concerned about him and reached out to him.

“They reached out to me and wanted to help me. I wanted to blow it off like everything was fine,” said the student. After one of the friends kept asking, the student said he ended up opening up to his friend, and added that it “was awesome just knowing I had that support.”

Miller’s advice for students who are concerned for a friend’s wellbeing is that seeking counseling is voluntary. Miller advised, “You can have a conversation with them next time they come to you with this problem and say, ‘I really support you … I also think that a counselor can help you beyond what I can.’” Miller said, “You don’t have to have a perfect answer.” 

Another student in the documentary shared this experience and said, “Each day that I’m surrounding myself with supportive people, I get better.”

At the documentary’s peak of positivity, the students relayed their thoughts about on-campus counseling resources. One student said, “Coming to college, I think it’s important to utilize the mental health help on campus.” Another student reiterated, “Going into college, it’s probably good to get into counseling as soon as you can because even if things in your life are going pretty well, it’s still nice to have someone to talk to.” 

One of the students shared how professional counseling was helpful for them and said, “Going to the behavioral center ended up being a positive experience for me … I felt a really good sense of control over my life.”

A student who had considered canceling her appointment had an unexpected experience. She said, “They really were good about pairing me with someone who could relate to me, as well as help me.” 

The documentary showed that the discussion of understanding one’s own mental health had been normalized for these students. A student glowed as they said, “I can just say ‘oh yeah, I’ve been struggling with depression,’ or ‘hey I’ve got a counseling appointment today.’ That just feels great, because I’m not ashamed of it.”

 As one of the final thoughts of the documentary, one of the students advised, “Reward yourself for the little things, because sometimes those little things make such a big difference.”

After the documentary, Miller announced, “We know that, already, mental health affects about one in four college students.” In Fall 2021, UCS conducted a survey that asked students about their mental health needs, and “a majority of students, 70%, said that if they were struggling with their mental health, they’d go to their friends first.” 

Miller talked about the combination of talking with friends and utilizing campus counseling services. Miller said, “I want them to still go to their friends and to have a resource and another tool … Friends are supposed to help you socially and emotionally, but also maybe your mental and emotional health might get some fine tweaking if you also use some professional help.” 

Miller explained UCS’s role on campus and said, “We are a campus counseling center … We welcome students to come with a friend to the first session … Maybe even walking a friend over to the office and making an appointment could be one way friends could help.” 

Regarding one of the advantages of therapy and counseling, Miller explained, “It’s a devoted time where you get to craft the tools that are actually going to be uniquely helpful to you in managing your mental health.” UCS has six counselors, including a multicultural specialist counselor.

Among the many resources offered in Royce Hall by UCS, there are Wellness Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Miller explained, “It really is just a chance to take a break … There’s this sense that you’ve got to be productive all the time … We’re humans … We’re not a machine meant to just turn out homework.” 

The following is a list of habits Miller suggests students do in addition to mental health treatment: getting enough sleep, keeping consistent go-to-sleep and wake-up times, regularly     exercising, eating healthy, reducing stress, staying connected to people who elicit feelings of being loved and appreciated, practicing yoga and/or meditation and reducing or eliminating one’s own consumption of alcohol, caffeine and other substances that can impact one’s emotional state.

UCS hosts two counseling groups (a grief group and an LGBTQ+ group), and provides crisis intervention, which is available every day with same day response. UCS also provides individual counseling, wellness activities and a zen zone. UCS is located in Room 220 in Royce Hall. To contact UCS, call 608.342.1865 for appointments.