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Viewpoint: College an important time for mental health checks

College life brings its own unique variety of stress. Students are, for the first time, completely in charge of their own schedules, both in school and away from it.

University students often experience depression or anxiety for the first time in their lives, and, unfortunately, these struggles are often left untreated. Students might feel embarrassed about needing help, or not know whom to ask about getting it. Perhaps the biggest problem is thinking they might be just “a little blue” or “feeling down,” which is normal for college students.

Depression and anxiety are very common problems. According to the 2009 American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment — a government-funded national survey of students at two- and four-year schools — nearly 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some point in the previous academic year. Universities, in reality, provide a great deal of resources for students struggling with mental and emotional health issues.

Though a common issue, depression should be taken seriously. Students feeling “down” for periods lasting more than a few days should visit a campus psychiatrist or counselor. Weber State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center operates each school day until 5 p.m., and provides a place for students to “identify barriers, improve coping, and achieve personal goals,” according to the center’s mission statement. The center deals with such complex issues as “relationship problems, academic or career uncertainty, identity confusion, loneliness, grief” and other concerns.

Students are often living away from loved ones for the first time, or feeling alone and isolated in a new field of study. They face new challenges with learning and are responsible not only for getting good grades, but also for taking care of their own physical needs and finances. This environment can easily (and understandably) lead to situations where depression, which does not have a single cause, can rear its ugly head.

In what is an unfortunate chicken-or-the-egg situation, depression can often lead to poor academic success, which in turn can often be a factor that leads to the exacerbation of issues like depression and anxiety. College is supposed to be stressful, and learning to balance in-school performance with all of the other responsibilities, obligations and roles in a student’s life can occasionally feel crushing.

It is important, as students participating in an institution of higher learning, not to further perpetuate the inaccurate and hurtful stigmas associated with mental health issues. Depression is a serious risk factor for unhealthy life behaviors like heavy substance abuse and unsafe sex and is also, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a major risk factor for suicide.

According to the above-mentioned study, “better diagnosis and treatment of depression can help reduce suicide rates among college students.” About 6 percent of college students reported “seriously considering suicide, and about one percent reported attempting suicide in the previous year.” Suicide, according to NIMH, is “the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.”

An active pursuit of mental and emotional health is the key to academic success, and especially for incoming freshmen or other students reading this, addressing what might feel like a minor concern could make the difference as to whether or not the university experience is a positive one.

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