Mental health resources available to students

AnnMarie Kent

When most students enter college, they are recent high school graduates. They have been under the watch of their parents, teachers and siblings for 18 years, and for most, they are on their own for the first time. The onset of mental illnesses peaks between the ages of 15 and 24, a time characterized by academic pressure and adjusting to an independent lifestyle.

This research is founded in studies by the University of Michigan Depression Center. According to the center, depression is the most common mental illness, affecting 17 percent of people globally. Women are far more susceptible to depressive episodes, with nearly twice the amount as men. While 21 percent of women suffer from depression, 13 percent of men do in the United States. The UM Depression Center reports that nearly 1,000 college students die each year from suicide related to depression. The Center for Disease Control lists suicide as the second leading cause of death between ages 15-24, behind unintentional injury.

Depression presents itself differently in every person who suffers from it, but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) describes depression as “Depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks. Mood represents a change from the person’s baseline. Impaired function: social, occupational, educational.” This definition is coupled with nine other symptoms that include sleeping too much or too little, fatigue or significant weight change.

While depression is the most common mental illness, a study by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2014 states that of the 9.8 million people in the United States, 4.2 percent of people suffer from a severe mental illness. This is defined as a severe mental, behavioral or emotional disorder. This statistic applied to the 7,411 students that attend Northern Michigan University is nearly 311 people.

Active Minds is a new group on campus that works to end stigmas surrounding mental illness by educating students about illnesses and the resources available for them, Rachel Klitzke, president of Active Minds, said. Active Minds recently hosted a “Less Stress Week,” aimed at raising awareness of the effects of stress. The week featured a movie screening, a mental health panel, therapy dogs,
acupuncture and yoga.

“Mental health is an area of diversity that is often overlooked,” Klitzke said. “I feel it’s important that our organization takes a stand for mental health awareness.”

Following student concerns over the university’s policies regarding mental illness that arose during the fall semester, the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University (ASNMU) formed a mental health committee. Jess Gula, chairwoman of the committee, said once they started exploring the issue and met with the Dean of Students, they realized there were other policies that needed exploring as well.

“Everyone has been affected by mental illness one way or another, and we realize how important it is to address it,” Gula said. “This committee is very important because it’s a way for students to stand up for their rights regarding mental health. Nothing is going to happen if we just sit around and hope for the best.”

Gula views the committee as a way to give students a voice in policies they are concerned about and make an impact on the policies and resources to help themselves and other students.

In addition to the committees, other locations on campus are equipped to help students struggling with mental health disorders. The Counseling and Consultation Services office is free to all enrolled students at NMU. They have licensed psychologists on staff that students can meet with by appointment. Resident advisors and resident directors go through a two-week-long training, part of which is training to spot the signs of a student suffering from a mental illness and to properly respond  to a crisis situation. Alexandra Marshall, coordinator of residence life at the Housing and Residence Life office, said the biggest advantage resident advisors have is the connections they form with their residents.

“They notice if a student is usually out and about, going to house government, going to house dinners, hanging out in the TV room and then all the sudden that student backs off of those social commitments,” Marshall said. “Because they have those great relationships with students, they can notice changes in behavior and talk to that student.”

The resident advisors help open conversations with students and direct them to the proper resources or mental health professionals, if it is a mental health issue, Marshall said. Housing staff go as far as walking students to the counseling center to be with students as support if they are hesitant or unsure what to expect in counseling.

“Everyone needs a different level of support,” Marshall said. “Our staff is willing to go as far as walking them up [to the counseling center] to get started in that office.”

Counseling and Consultation Services can be reached at (906) 227-2980 and is located at 3405 C.B. Hedgcock. Emergency services available 24-hours include Public Safety at (906) 227-2151 and Pathways Community Mental Health at (888) 728-4929.