With freshmen year comes a copious number of new stressors that have the possibility to lead to mental health issues. The American Psychological Association found that one in three first year college students struggle with mental health issues.
Specifically, the 2018 study found that 35% of the 14,000 students participating reported symptoms of mental health disorders, with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder being the most common.
“We see the numbers and we see that happening here,” Eugene Shang, director of housing and residential life, said. “When people come to us, we direct them to appropriate resources, whether that be the student health center, CAPS, or the new wellness center, wherever that may be.”
Stephen Heggem, residence life coordinator of the predominantly freshmen Citrus Hall, said that much of the stress placed on freshmen students stems from the transition into their first year, especially when it comes to a sense of belonging.
“I think for first-year students, if I could lump it all into one, it would just be, “Do I belong here?” Heggem said. “Working with the first year students in Citrus, what I find is that when they come, it’s ‘Here’s my diagnoses, this is who I am, this is what I need,’ and if I can make magic happen, I’m going to make magic happen.”
Focusing more on external stressors, Heggem recognizes that students may not feel comfortable going to a stranger with their personal issues due to their already established trusted group of confidantes.
Although acknowledging that, he still makes the effort to let students know that his door is open and he is there to listen to them.
“All I’m going to say is that if you want to talk about this, and you want help, and if you need resources, whatever the case may be, I’m here for you,” Heggem said. “No matter what, there’s no judgment from me.”
Elleni Koulos, director of counseling and psychological services, or CAPS, said that one sure way for students to tell if their mental health is diminishing is a change in eating or sleeping habits.
This can be applied to the student themselves, or their friends as well.
“Drastic changes in behavior, appearance, moodiness, or talking about suicide and increased drug use are all indicators of someone struggling with their mental health,” Koulos said. “You want to talk to this person, express your concern and guide them to seek support.”
Koulos and CAPS Staff Psychologist Sandra Alfaro Beltran both mentioned that students must establish healthy coping mechanisms in order to maintain their mental health on a day-to-day basis.
However, the lack of healthy coping skills seems to be a major contributing factor to the increase in symptoms of mental illness, they said.
“Life is hard,” Alfaro Beltran said. “Students are not able to manage the issues on their own, instead looking for a quick fix. Taking care of the self is a lifestyle that includes promoting healthy relationships in all aspects; food, sleep, and personal life.”
Koulos provided several tips on time management, stress management, and sleep hygiene that students can follow on a regular basis to help upkeep their own mental health.
When it comes to healthy sleeping habits, establishing a regular schedule, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, while exercising and eating well will all contribute to healthier sleep hygiene.
When it comes to stress management, prioritizing, perspective and setting aside time for yourself is key.
It is also important to note that stress is not inherently a bad thing, and talking about it, even with no solution in sight, releases hormones that reduce negative feelings typically associated with stress, according to a handout Koulos provided.
Time management is another major aspect that students need to focus on.
Some tips provided by Koulos include using a to-do list or planner, which can also help students prioritize efficiently, while limiting distractions or physically removing yourself from then when that is not possible.
Establishing a routine to maintain your sleep, time and stress are only the first steps when it comes to sustaining your mental health.
It is also important for students to recognize that it is okay to ask for help, something Heggem described as oftentimes uncomfortable.
“I would encourage first year students to embrace the unknown and not be afraid of it,” Heggem said. “The most uncomfortable, awful piece of advice I can give is truly the best, life-saving piece of advice I can give: just ask for help.”
Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.