• August 18, 2019

CENTERS' PIECE: Mental health major issue for students - Odessa American: Centers’ Piece

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CENTERS' PIECE: Mental health major issue for students

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Posted: Monday, August 12, 2019 5:15 am

College is a tumultuous time in life. It can be one of the most rewarding yet challenging experiences people face. Young adults have this newfound freedom, but with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility and with that responsibility comes a lot of pressure.

The pressures can trigger a variety of mental health concerns from depression and anxiety to suicidal thoughts, self-harm behaviors, eating disorders, or addiction. Mental health is a major concern on college campuses across the globe. According to recent research published by the American Psychological Association, over one-third of first-year college students experience some type of mental health issue.

In the study, lead by Columbia University Psychology Professor Randy P. Auerbach, researchers analyzed data collected from nearly 14,000 first-year college students from eight countries (Australia, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Spain and the U.S.) and found that 35 percent struggled with a mental illness.

The changes associated with this period in life can be difficult to navigate. For many students, this is the first time they have been responsible for taking care of daily living tasks. In addition, they are faced with temptations of drugs and alcohol while trying to balance a desire for independence and coping with increased stress. The transition from high school to college brings about huge changes to the daily reality for teens. That’s a lot to deal with, even for responsible, high–achieving students.

Having a game plan can help to avoid undue stress and decrease chances of a mental health crisis:

1. Develop a face-to-face support network. The more people you know, the more connected you’ll feel. If you have high school friends on campus, avoid the temptation to rely solely on those friendships. Get to know your advisors and instructors. Get involved. Try new things.

2. Be aware of the natural tendency people have to compare themselves to others. Social media can be a great way to stay connected with family and old friends, be careful not to get caught in the compare and despair thinking trap. Everyone will use social media to highlight how amazing their first few weeks are, but don’t be fooled and get stuck comparing your worst moments with everyone else’s best moments. The reality is that everyone will have highs and lows throughout college.

3. Set yourself up for success. If you’re not a morning person, schedule afternoon classes. If you’re going to have difficulty returning to campus after having a break from classes, schedule your classes back to back. If you’re planning to work or commute, perhaps scheduling all of your classes on Tuesday/Thursday or Monday/Wednesday would be best. Think about your own learning style and study habits when setting your schedule and choosing your classes. Choices that can lead to success are up to you.

4. Be careful with your money. Debt is real. According to Forbes 2018 student loan debt statistics, student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category, coming in second only to mortgage loans, and higher than both credit cards and auto loans. Student loan debt is becoming a serious problem nationwide. For 2016 graduates, the average student loan debt was over $35,000. Student loans are not free money. They will eventually have to be paid back. This reality does not always sink in for first-time freshmen.

5. Work hard, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Yes, you should hold yourself to high standards and do the best you can, but in the scheme of life, not getting straight A’s does not have to be that big of a deal. Aim high, but set realistic expectations. Some majors will be more difficult than others. Some classes will be more difficult than others. Decide what you want to achieve academically, professionally, and personally and take steps to make that happen.

6. Use the services that are available to you on campus. Visit the student health center, counseling center, gym, and library. Meet with your academic advisor and go to office hours. Practice healthy coping skills. Get help when you need it: academically, physically, or emotionally.

7. Manage your time wisely and prioritize. This has to be one of the most common struggles for freshmen. It can be difficult to balance multiple responsibilities while still trying to maintain a social life. Taking time out to relax is also vital. When there’s a test coming up and a paper due, relaxing probably isn’t number one on your to do list, but taking time out to give your brain a rest can make studying more effective and help to support mental health.

8. You are now an adult. Understand your rights, but also understand your responsibilities and understand that choices made have adult consequences. The freedom of going off to college can be as intoxicating as alcohol, but remember that you still have about three years before you are the legal age to drink. Be smart.

These suggestions for success might sound very simplistic or obvious, but these are things many first time freshmen haven’t ever considered. Sometimes the best defense can be a good offense. Help your kids prepare for the challenges the lie ahead by creating a game plan.

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