Switching majors, pressure from parents, debt, working on the side, and maintaining a high GPA. In 2017, students have more responsibilities to juggle than ever, and with so much on their plate, mental health is usually the last thing students make time for.
What’s being called as a ‘Crisis on Campus,’ more students than ever are in need of mental health resources at college campuses across the nation. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University, the use of counseling services at college campuses rose by 30 percent from 2010 to 2015. In addition, the number of students seeking mental health treatment went up 50 percent just from 2015 to 2016.
This crisis isn’t exempt from becoming a problem at UWM. Norris Health Center, the provider for mental health services across campus, has seen such an increase in the need for counseling that it needed to expand to the large facilities of the Northwest Quadrant. According to a report by TMJ4 on the mental health epidemic, the number of students who went through counseling at UWM has increased by 35 percent. Increasing pressure to do well academically, access to drugs and alcohol, paying rent, and managing debt are all major stressors among college-aged students that are contributing to the epidemic.
Another issue regarding the neglect of mental health among college students is the fact that many have never experienced mental illness prior to starting college. According to a report by NBC News on the rise of mental health problems among college students, more than 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin around or before the age of 24. Because of the seemingly-sudden onset of such issues around college-aged individuals, many students maintain a ‘snap-out of it’ mentality, by convincing themselves their struggles are simply a result of stress and are not serious issues.
But for a number of college students, mental health issues are not just the result of the high stress academic life. For many, juggling debt, social life, access to drugs and alcohol, the pressure to do well, family issues, and general physical health can all contribute to the onset of mental illness.
Sophomore Charlee Vrtjak experienced the additional stressors of college firsthand when she was diagnosed with Lyme Disease which affected both her mental and physical health. “Waking up and getting out of bed, along with other mundane daily tasks became a physical struggle. Classes that were once easy became one of the hardest things I had to do,” she said. “It was stressful because it’s an invisible disease and often unheard of. People do not understand the extremes and symptoms of my disease. I don’t blame them because sometimes I don’t either. But when you have a day where you can’t do something it’s hard for a teacher to understand that.”
The misunderstanding and stigmas of mental health issues has contributed to the lack of students seeking help. Sophomore Chloe Wilkerson first experienced the lack of discussion regarding mental health when she first came to school at UWM. “I realized that I was not mentally stable coming into college, but with social media culture it seemed like no one else was struggling like I was. I even thought about giving up on school but my friend encouraged me to check out the resources at Norris Health Center which helped me immensely, and showed that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through” she said.
“People with any kind of handicap, physical, mental, or other concerns need to be willing to share their stories because they’re not alone. Nothing has helped me more than sharing my story,” Charlee Vrtjak said. By reducing the stigma behind seeking help, college students are more likely to reach out to others regarding mental health related illnesses, and to be more open to discussing them.
Additionally, the neglect of mental health among college students often is a result of the lack of awareness of available resources. At UWM, Norris Health Center offers numerous counseling and consultation services to help students with mental health evaluations, counseling, and Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Concerns (AODA). For long-term counseling needs, Norris Health Center works with students to assist with referrals to off-campus mental health or AODA providers.
Even for students that don’t necessarily have mental health issues, Norris Health Center’s ‘Let’s Talk’ sessions provide students with no-appointment confidential consultations regarding the many stressors that college students come into contact with. ‘Let’s Talk’ promises that “No topic is off limits. Common concerns are: stress, worry, academic concerns, sadness, relationships and family problems.” By utilizing the accessibility of mental health services on campus, students are able to more effectively manage the stressors of college life. Services at Norris Health Center are free to all enrolled students who have paid their segregated fees. For more information on mental health resources available at UWM, head to http://uwm.edu/norris/counseling/.