Managing mental health issues as a college student

Photo: Selene Basile

Diego Rodriguez/Contributing Writer

“We could probably do our taxes ourselves, but we don’t seem to think that it’s weak to hire an accountant” said Kate Kominars, associate director of Counseling and Psychological services.

She believes that when it comes to mental well-being, people should make it more acceptable to reach out for help.

According to Kominars, before getting professional counseling, most people reach out to their friends for input but the outcome is not always the most desirable. “People talk to their friends and ask not to tell anyone, but in reality they won’t tell anybody, except so and so.”

She points out that this would never be the case with trained counselors.

Kominars also compares counseling to the use of antibiotics for an infection. “Antibiotics can get rid of an infection faster than the body, and that’s what we do, help people to get back on track fast.”

CAPS benefits students by providing a set of services including personal learning, emotional well-being and academic skills development.

Students who request a consultation are listened to and assisted with a development plan according to their needs. The most common are anxiety, depression and challenges with relationships.

As reported by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, almost 50 percent of students who seek counseling express feelings of anxiety and stress caused mainly by competitiveness, financial difficulties and in some instances campus crime. Depression accounts for 40 percent; relationship issues, 32 percent; and suicidal behaviors, 20 percent.

“There is not one specific factor that will trigger anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts, however some individuals are at higher risk genetically,” said Jeremy Pettit, a psychology professor and editor of Behavioral Medicine.

He suggested that genes play a role generating risks that could cause individuals to feel more anxious, depressed or even suicidal, although it’s not completely determined by this factor.

Aside from natural antecedents, Pettit added:“There is a lot going on environmentally as well, in terms of experiences in life, certain ways of thinking about situations in advance, interpreting the meaning of events and stress.”

Pettit believes people who struggle with environmental stress combined with a family history of these behaviors are more likely to develop depression and be at risk of suicide.    

On the other hand, there are cases where people who battle with depression and stress consume drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate or draw a blank on their personal issues.

However, Professor Pettit says, “there is a bidirectional relationship” between the consumption of these substances and depression.

“People who use drugs and alcohol excessively are also at risk for later developing depression.”

There are television commercials and billboards around the city promoting the “Drink Responsibly” campaign, but Kominars expressed that many students don’t know what that really means.

“That is why we developed a program called ‘Know Your Numbers’” which helps young people determine what is appropriate drinking and how to control it.

Furthermore, when analyzing suicide, the numbers vary significantly among races and genders, said Pettit.

Men are more likely to commit suicide than women. However, Native Americans and whites have the highest rates of suicides in comparison to African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.

Although depression is generally a factor in suicides, it isn’t always the main cause. Pettit suggests different measures to prevent falling into severe depression such as physical exercise, good sleep, strong social support networks, good eating habits and maintaining positive thoughts and interpretations of certain situations.

Despite the fact that suicide is the third cause of death among young adults between the ages of 15 to 24, as reported by the American Psychological Association, people have more access now than ever to specialized organizations that can help them confront their challenges and improve their emotional well-being.

Pettit provided a 24-hour nationwide suicide hotline, which is 1-800-273-TALK.

According to CAPS, 40 percent of students go to FIU counseling for help but, “why would encountering problems with anxiety or depression be more stigmatizing than going to a lawyer if you have a problem with the criminal justice system?”

Kominars explains that CAPS provides students with several services such as the Body Acceptance Program, group and couples counseling, stress and time management workshops, as well as online therapy sessions.

Pettit recommends that parents keep open lines of communication with their children and look out for sudden mood changes as well as social isolation, aggressiveness and increases in substance use, namely alcohol.

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