De-stress group aids students

De-Stress is part of a larger University effort to prevent students’ mental health issues before they fester.

by Sarah Connor

University of Minnesota students are joining Boynton Health Service in a new group that aims to confront mental illnesses head-on.

The student group, De-Stress, is part of Boynton’s larger goal to provide more student resources that aim to prevent mental health conditions rather than treat them, while also attempting to down stigmas surrounding diseases associated with stress.

“We have many resources available that provide treatment for mental health conditions and issues,” said Julie Sanem, director of health promotion at Boynton. “But we really wanted to take a step back and focus on prevention and work a little more upstream to connect students with resources when they are struggling with managing their stress.”

Students are largely unable to manage stress effectively, according to Boynton’s most recent College Student Health Survey report. The 2013 report noted that more than one-fourth of students surveyed said they are unable to manage the stress in their lives

“On a campus that serves 50,000 to 60,000 people every day, that’s a lot of students who feel like they need more resources or more education or more options regarding how they manage their stress,” said Sam Barthelemy, a De-Stress student coordinator.

Matt Hanson, senior psychologist at University Counseling and Consulting Services, said the demand for mental health services for students has risen each year.

“That’s not a bad problem to have,” he said. “I’d rather have that be the case — where students are aware of their stress levels and are reaching out to get help.”

Hanson said the new group is one way the University is trying to be proactive, tackling the issue early on to prevent students’ mental health issues from escalating.

Sanem said members discuss the most common stressors for University students at the group’s meetings. Typical problems that induce stress include conflict with friends and family, and struggling with classes, she said.

Lack of sleep is also a major stressor, Sanem said. According to the Boynton study, almost half of
University students surveyed said they get adequate sleep three or fewer nights a week.

Barthelemy said Boynton is planning programs for next semester that promote good sleep habits as an avenue to good mental health.

Additionally, De-Stress will be rolling out a peer-mentoring program next semester that focuses on stress relief, Barthelemy said.

She said students will be able to come to hourlong sessions with a peer educator to talk about any stressful situation they’re facing and how to cope.

“Even if students can’t make that appointment, just creating the group to promote awareness and to protect against the stigma of mental health is important,” Barthelemy said.

De-Stress also plans to meet with other campus groups that try to help students handle stress to maximize the number of student resources, Sanem said.

Victoria Blakeborough, president of the mental health student group Active Minds, said college is a crucial time to learn the skills that promote good mental health.

“[Students] have a lot of responsibilities, it’s a time of change and figuring out who you are,” she said. “And I think it’s critical that there are resources on campus to ensure that we are as healthy as possible and we can achieve everything we want to.”

Breaking the stereotype

Along with providing more resources to students, De-Stress is also working to reduce the stigma related with having a mental illness.

“[We want to] create a community that promotes mental wellness and normalizes help-seeking related to stress management and mental health,” Sanem said.

She said the group is part of Boynton’s plan to expand its mental health promotion efforts, adding that the clinic will continue to host stress management events like its weekly animal therapy event, Pet Away Worry & Stress. 

Barthelemy said she hopes the new group will help students recognize the state of their mental health and talk about the problems they’re facing.

“It’s important to talk about it, and it’s important to speak up and to have the conversation that it’s OK to have stress,” she said.