By Mahalia Desrosiers
Yes! St. Francis College wants its students to know that they are important!
In recent years college mental health has become a hot topic.
Counselor Jean Marie Kelly offers insights on how the climate on mental health awareness has changed: “The country definitely has become aware that improved services for college mental health are a necessity.”
Mental health is a very real problem and people often flippantly throw the disorders around and misdiagnose others. You may hear statements like, “my parents are so bi-polar; they’re always getting mad over nothing!” That may very well be an exaggeration. The truth is mental health in general is very complex, and nothing to joke about.
Unfortunately students fear the taboo, social scrutiny, and stigma of addressing their own issues.
I admit that I too could feel my nerves start to kick in while walking towards the counselors’ office, as if doing the “walk of shame” in front of an audience.
However the moment you walk in to the counseling office on the second floor, you instantly begin to feel at ease.
In the past month I had two separate sit- downs with two of the schools counselors. With each meeting I learned that again I too was misinformed about the treatment of students dealing with mental or emotional strife in St. Francis College.
The truth is, while 1 in 5 adults have a diagnosable mental illness, 1 in 4 students have a diagnosable illness.
Why is that?
Alarmingly “18-24 is a very delicate age, where severe mental illness might make itself manifest,” if and only if a student were” going to have a psychotic mental break, that might be the time in their lives”.
Though age is not the only reason, it is still fascinating to see the correlation between the age range of development of an illness and the typical age bracket of college attendees.
“More than 45 percent of those who stopped attending college because of mental health related reasons did not receive accommodations.”
Counselor Jean Marie Kelly acknowledged that colleges is a trying time where “there is also a lot of stressors combined with just the developmental stage, where people are really trying to figure out their identities and its not an easy time ”
So far, studies show that “50% have become so anxious that they struggle in school, 80% felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities, and 40% do not seek help.” Causes include overwhelming course loads, feelings of constant failure, and pressure, lack of preparation and direction.
Counselor Donna Cavalluzzi said: “There are a lot of cliques and so kids don’t know where to fit in and so they don’t stay, they just go home, and they have a lot of performance anxiety about not doing well, and who do they talk to? A lot of kids are having difficulty growing up”.
What is more worrisome is that some students “are afraid of success or don’t think they can be successful.”
Which is typically plagued by feelings of insecurity about their place in the world and/or with choosing a fitting major, ” and sometimes that’s just really okay and sometimes they just need someone to give them permission or tell them that.”
Other attributes to mental health decline include a history of sexual assault (assaults often occurring in dormitories), domestic abuse, the loss of a loved one or peer, drastic changes in career, and lifestyle as well as eating disorders, and addiction can cause high levels of anxiety, or can trigger episodes of mania (elevated mood or hyper activity), or depression.
Today, many suffer from anxiety, social anxiety, anxiety disorders, multiple forms of PTSD, depression, and personality disorders.
Here at SFC, there are “at least 30 different people coming in to services every week, and the school is only 26 hundred”, a hefty size considering the school population.
There are currently Three-licensed practitioners in the counseling center: Jean Marie Kelly, LCSW, Donna Cavalluzzi, LCSW-R, and the newly appointed Robert Kaye-Walsh, LCSW.
If you prefer one counselor to the other, you can simply ask to meet another counselor. There isn’t a solid commitment; if you feel uncomfortable with a counselor, s/he would like to know that.
If you don’t come back, it’s okay, they just want an update to know that you are doing okay. They truly care.
Being that St. Francis is a commuter school, you would think the atmosphere is strictly clinical.
Alas, it is not!
The college takes every measure to account for students who feel burdened. You may even spot a counselor in your classroom, informing your classmates about the counseling center and its availability.
The Vice-President of SFC’s Psychology Club urges students to come out and join clubs, “ I want to see more people get involved”.
She herself is part of multiple organizations on campus and believes that some students could benefit from a hobby or passion to relieve stress and anxiety. Even dropping in to any in school activity meeting once is an effort acknowledged.
“When you’re involved its like a safe haven.” SFC is “ a very open school…try to join the community, no one is gonna shun, they gon’ welcome you with open arms”.
The Counseling Center and Psychology Club have partnered together to curate some ideas that will hopefully allow students to feel included.
There is even a project in the works for this upcoming April.
It’s important to note that seeking help doesn’t make you “unhealthy” or “broken”. It simply means that you would like to be healthier.
When to seek help? Students should seek help if they:
- – experience shortness of breath at just the thought of simple tasks
- – have panic attacks
- – have difficulty concentrating
- – experience irregular sleep patterns
- – display a lack of interest in school work
- – are irritable
- – feel intense fear or guilt
- – adopt a negative attitude towards school and/or life
- – experience a shift in moods/extreme mood swings
This list is non-conclusive. Even if you do not relate to any of the examples above, if you fear you are at risk, do not shy away from the school nurse and/or counselor, located in room 2310 next to the Anita and Thomas J. Volpe Lounge on the second floor. There is nothing to be ashamed of, these licensed professionals pledge confidentiality and want to help you.
“This is really a safe place information doesn’t go to teachers, it doesn’t go to deans, it doesn’t go anywhere”
If the thought of an in-person meeting intimidates you, then consider calling the Counseling Center at (718) 489-5335 or sending an email to the school nurse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, if you would rather seek help outside of school, please visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website http://www.adaa.org/about/press/news/feed to match with a therapist in your area.
Remember, addressing your issues head on is the key to prevent more stress further down the road.