Health services continues to support students with mental health

Samantha Jette, Copy Editor

The week of Oct. 7 to 13 was Mental Health Awareness week, which started a conversation about mental health on campus. However, the conversation did not stop once the week ended.

When discussing mental health, it is important to note the stigma behind the phrase. Health Services Counselor, Kristina Wilson, told the Crier that the term “mental illness” originated by the traditional medical disease model. She believes the label “increases stigma as well as fear.” Instead, Health Services encourages the community to use the phrase “mental health” which focuses on “the challenges and concerns that our students face in managing their mental health.”

Director of Health Services, Maura Marshall, weighed in on the matter, stating, “‘Illness’ to me sometimes indicates sickness, which may portray that they are not able to function adequately, and this may lead to stigma, which we want to avoid. Students are functioning with mental health issues, and are successful at  Saint Anselm College because they are seeking out the appropriate support and resources.”

Mental health has been a prevalent issue in recent years, largely due to the increase of concerns across America. Now, approximately 1 in 5 adults experience mental health challenges in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Many may wonder how these national numbers compare to Saint Anselm College. During the 2017-2018 school year, Health Services counselors at Saint A’s met with 352 students and had a total of 1835 visits. The number of students seen for counseling has been steadily climbing for the past 10 years, and the number of student visits with the counselors has more than doubled. The average number of counseling appointments by students is 5.

Marshall told the Crier that at the college, “Approximately 20% of incoming students identify they have a mental health issue confidentially on their Health Services Admission Health records. We do find that not all students disclose this information and come forth later. We do not ask for new health records from upperclassmen each year, so we only know about the students who utilize our counseling services.”

Students at Saint Anselm can visit a counselor for a variety of reasons. The top five most common issues that students visit a counselor for are: Anxiety, Depression, Relationships, Stress, and Alcohol and Drugs. Other concerns that Health Services handles are family issues, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, harassment and violence, sexual assault, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, grief, anger management, sexual orientation, gender identity, concussions, Bipolar Disorder, Spectrum Disorders, panic attacks, roommate issues, and thought disorders.

Even though mental health challenges have been given more visibility recently than in past decades, it can still be difficult to identify symptoms. Because one spends a substantial amount of time with friends and roommates, these people may be better equipped to identify when one is struggling.  

Wilson says that some signs of mental health concerns in others “are significant changes in their appearance, sleep and eating habits, isolation, and expressing feelings of hopelessness.” When one notices these signs in a friend, they are encouraged to speak up. In a new episode of Hawkward, The Crier’s podcast, Wilson told Crier editors that it is possible for students to have a confidential conversation with a counselor if they are worried about a friend’s mental health, in order to determine the next steps. The student will not be made to reveal the person of concern.

Students are also able to determine if they themselves are struggling with mental health. Wilson says that “I think a way to help identify [challenges] in ourselves is if we are having a lot of physical concerns, i.e. stomach aches, exhaustion, headaches, feeling overwhelmed most of the day–day after day, and a lack of feeling enjoyment with activities that used to bring happiness.”

Students who are concerned about their mental health have resources on campus that can help them. Health Services offers confidential counseling sessions and consultations with licensed practitioners, or a nurse practitioner who specializes in mental health. Students may call at (603) 641-7028 or may go in person and request a counseling appointment. Wilson says, “No questions are asked why or for what reason,” when scheduling an appointment.

Outside of counseling appointments, Health Services has expanded their programming to other areas on campus. Counselors have worked with Residential Life staff to give students additional resources. In the past, counselors have also partnered with the Academic Resource Center to create Test Anxiety Workshops for students, and have assisted larger groups of students in the classrooms themselves.

Health Services has attempted implementing support groups and common hour programs geared around mental health. Marshall stated that “We developed a 3 week “SOS- Stressed Out Students” curriculum,  but we have had a very poor outcome with group programs.”

In terms of future programs, Marshall said, “I have met with students recently who are interested in starting a peer support group. I am planning on working with them to ensure that they have the proper training and support for facilitating, and making sure they are aware of the resource that are available on and off campus.”

Students are encouraged to seek resources or assistance in a time of need. Mental health is important, whether or not one is struggling, and should be treated as such. For more information about mental health on campus, scan the QR code below to listen to the Hawkward podcast on Mental Health.