Midterms crank up stress levels, mental health concerns

About 27 percent of students report being diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime.

Midterms crank up stress levels, mental health concerns

Amanda Bankston

Two years ago, Claire Chappuis reached her breaking point âÄî she crumbled under the pressure of her sophomore year at the University of Minnesota.

She was irritable, anxious and her personal relationships were suffering. Her friends and family asked what happened to the happy girl they had known.

âÄúI wasnâÄôt happy with life,âÄù said Chappuis, a senior in the neuroscience department. âÄúI didnâÄôt like the person I was.âÄù

Chappuis sought help. She was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and treated by a family doctor.

She uses her experience today as a campus mental health advocate and a co-coordinator for the student group Active Minds.

As midterm season at the University gets into full swing, she joined Vice Provost Jerry Rinehart âÄî who sent out a campus-wide email about mental health resources Oct. 17 âÄî in encouraging students to seek help for mental health issues.

âÄúThe stress of midterms and finals really brings these mental health issues to light,âÄù she said. âÄúThe bottom line is if youâÄôre not experiencing joy or happiness, you should seek help.âÄù

Chappuis said one of the main purposes of Active Minds is to let people suffering from mental health issues know that âÄúyou are not alone.âÄù

Statistics prove her claim.

According to a Boynton Health Service survey conducted last year, 27.1 percent of University students report being diagnosed with at least one mental health condition in their lifetime, 11.3 percent of which were diagnosed within the last year.

National benchmarks reveal a similar story for college students around the country. Nearly 20 percent of students reported their academic performance was negatively affected by anxiety and 12 percent reported it being impacted by depression, according to the American College Health AssociationâÄôs spring 2011 National College Health Assessment.

Dave Golden, director of public health and communications for Boynton, said mental health issues are âÄúvery typical of this age group,âÄù but the University is fighting to promote awareness and management for students.

âÄúOut in the community, it is typical to wait six weeks for mental health counseling,âÄù he said. âÄúWe try to make it more accessible, faster. We know students are on a shorter timeline.âÄù

Both Chappuis and Golden advocate for resources, such as Boynton and University Counseling and Consulting Services for student mental health support âÄî particularly during a stressful point in the semester when âÄúeverything is upâÄù in terms of traffic at all University health resources.

âÄúWe know there is a link between mental health and GPA,âÄù Golden said. âÄúStudents are here to be students. TheyâÄôre here to be successful. ThatâÄôs part of why this is so important.âÄù

Chappuis said the coping mechanisms she learned after seeking professional help played a big role in overcoming her anxiety.

Since learning to eat well, exercise, evaluate her emotions and plan ahead, she said she has reduced her stress level and is âÄúdoing really wellâÄù during this semesterâÄôs midterms.

But for as many people able to successfully seek help, there are others who are too ashamed to address their mental health concerns, she said.

âÄúA lot of students try to tell themselves they shouldnâÄôt be feeling this way,âÄù she said. âÄúBut you are, so you need to figure out how to stop it.âÄù

 

âÄòStressful by designâÄô

At 1 a.m. Wednesday, Omar Osman and Felix Hung sat huddled over their laptops in Nils Hasselmo Hall, ready for another long night of studying.

Both said they had been close to their breaking points within their college career but had learned how to manage their stress.

âÄúJust like the body gets sick, the mind gets sick,âÄù Osman, a psychology, management and economics student said. He suffered a period of social isolation and extreme stress in the past. âÄúI just try to study ahead of time and take necessary breaks.âÄù

Hung said he limits his caffeine intake and tries to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Golden said the pair is on to something. While Boynton studies reveal that most students reveal high stress levels, they only seemed to negatively impact students when they went unmanaged.

About 27 percent of University students reported that they are unable to manage their stress level, according to the 2010 Boynton health survey. Of those students, 12.4 percent reported they were diagnosed with depression in the last year.

âÄúSchool is stressful by design, and some stress is good,âÄù Golden said. âÄúBut when it becomes unmanageable, thatâÄôs when we get into trouble.âÄù

He suggests people âÄúmake a conscious attempt to manage stressâÄù by exercising, maintaining contact with family and friends, managing time and participating in campus activities like Chappuis does, Hung and Osman have learned.

Neither Hung nor Osman said they were surprised that one in four of their peers had problems or were currently struggling with mental health issues.

âÄúEven if you donâÄôt suffer from mental health issues, I guarantee you know somebody who does,âÄù Chappuis said.

If students are concerned about their mental health or that of their friends, Golden and Chappuis suggest accessing the UniversityâÄôs mental health website for resources and a self-assessment.

Chappuis and her student group have organized an art therapy meeting Nov. 8 to help students cope with the mid-semester stress.

âÄúThis is a great time to learn to manage that stress,âÄù Golden said. âÄúThese are skills students will carry with them for the rest of their lives. But if itâÄôs overwhelming, itâÄôs important to seek professional help.âÄù