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Campus Concerned About Student Mental Health

By Justine Benzen
UW-RF University Communications

DEC. 16, 2005--Feeling stressed, anxious, homesick, overwhelmed or unsure about educational and career choices are some of the many issues that University of Wisconsin-River Falls and other college students experience on a daily basis.

Concerns about the mental health of college students have risen substantially over the past decade. Numerous studies all point in the same direction: serious mental health problems are growing on campuses, and more professional resources are needed to solve them.

According to the National College Health Assessment survey administered to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls student body in 2003, some 96.3 percent of respondents "felt overwhelmed" by all they had to do one or more times within the last school year.

In response to the survey and throughout the 2005-06 school year, Terry Brown, interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Brad Caskey, associate dean for CAS, and Alice Reilly-Myklebust, director of student health services, are leading a mental health initiative with faculty, staff, students and the local community to address the student mental health crisis.

During fall semester, Brown, Caskey and Reilly-Myklebust facilitated two discussions, which were supported by grants from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and UW-RF. The sessions focused on student mental health issues on campus and explored opportunities to help alleviate the crisis.

The discussions were based upon a recent book co-written by Richard Kadison, chief of mental health at Harvard University, titled "College of the Overwhelmed: The Mental Health Crisis and What to Do About It."

"These discussions give faculty more of an understanding of student mental health issues," said Brown. "It is very rare for faculty to talk about student mental health and their performance in the classroom."            

Some of the many reasons why students are suffering from these problems are because students are over-committed, lack of sleep, grade pressures, depression and overall stress from work, school and life, says Caskey.

"We need to educate people with what students face," said Caskey. "Families don't seem to understand the pressures that college students deal with."

Caskey says that when students start to seem "overwhelmed" it is likely their strategy is to to nothing about it.  "Students begin to skip one class and then all classes, and later they are being kicked out," said Caskey.

According to Reilly-Myklebust, from 2000 to 2003 more students have sought professional   counseling from the university's personal development staff. Because the university cannot meet the increased need, it offers students three sessions with an off-campus counselor contracted with the University at no cost.

The fall semester discussion sessions have given faculty, staff and the community a better understanding of the issues students deal with on campus, says Brown. Knowledge and understanding about what to do when a student is in need are two key elements to helping address the problem.  

"There are a lot of services that are out there that should be utilized," says Caskey.

Caskey also says that as faculty, staff or professors have to get involved. "We have an obligation to help people grow intellectually and as human beings." He said ff problems are not identified early, it is possible that "student problems will spill over to the police and other community members."  

On a broad level, the discussions have made the campus community more aware of mental health, helping to create a safer and healthier campus, says Reilly-Myklebust.

Caskey said that student mental health problems are increasing because the world today is different than what it used to be. In the past, the drinking age was lower therefore there weren't concerns of underage consumption. Students today are more independent and consequently deal with more struggles. The pace of life is faster due to technology and globalization and can affect stress levels. There is a more diversity among the student body; for example students with disabilities self-identify as to their need of supports and services to attend college.

Kadison will visit campus on Jan. 19, 2006 for a day-long workshop based on the discussion group conversations.  

"Kadison has been successful at other universities. The focus is take his expertise and apply it to our university," said Caskey.

The next step, says Brown, is to complete additional grant applications to facilitate such efforts as providing more counseling services, creating programs to enhance safety and health on campus, and offering more information via University web pages on such health issues.

For more information relating to mental health education initiative on campus contact Brown at 715/425-3777 or terry.m.brown@uwrf.edu , Caskey at 715/425-3366 or Bradley.j.caskey@uwrf.edu , or Reilly-Myklebust at 715/425-3293 or alice.m.reilly-myklebust@uwrf.edu .

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Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:06:53 Central Daylight Time

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