On One Hand

April 27, 2006

A Mental Battle

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:09 pm
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http://thecampuspress.com/health/

Published in The Campus Press

For various students, the stress of exams can mean
depression and other psychological struggles

Matt Pizzuti
Staff Writer

As the end of the academic year approaches, most students are feeling the pressures of extended study sessions, rigorous final projects, essays and difficult exams that can determine students’ entire semester grades in a matter of hours.

For some students, this pressure can exacerbate underlying psychological disorders that need medical treatment.

“You can get sort of nasty cycles where academic stress and mental health problems can feed off each other and get very bad,” said Eric Anderson, a graduate student studying computer science who has suffered from depression.

Anderson said constant focus on schoolwork kept him from getting over his depression, while the depression constantly made him think he wasn’t doing well enough in school.

“I felt like I had to do more just to be OK. No matter how hard I was working the results just weren’t good enough yet,” Anderson said.

Freshman environmental engineering major Kelly Colwell, who has been diagnosed with a minor form of bipolar disorder, described a similar cycle that can run out of control in times of academic stress.

“During midterms and finals, I definitely notice it more; if I’m not paying attention things can get out of control,” Colwell said.

Colwell said if she doesn’t remember to eat or sleep on schedule, symptoms of her disorder, such as mood swings, spring up and knock her even farther from her routine.

“It’s a vicious cycle, if I lose track of one thing, I’ll lose track of other things,” Colwell said.

Joe Courtney, co-director of Wardenburg Health and Psychiatry Center said the numbers of students seeking psychological help increase before finals or midterms because of stress.

“When students struggle with issues like depression or anxiety, then make adjustments to accommodate those, they can often regress when they are under stress,” Courtney said.

Wardenburg’s Psychological Health and Psychiatry Center, where Courtney works, is a place where students can receive support for psychological disorders and substance abuse problems.

“We work very hard at following the students that have major mental illness and do everything we can to provide the supports that allow them to stay in school,” Courtney said.

Courtney said Wardenburg’s psychological health department also helps students who need to leave school when their illnesses get especially intense and don’t want to suffer the consequences of dropping out mid-term.

The process, called a medical withdrawal, allows the student to leave the university without receiving failed grades by wiping the semester clean. The student is then evaluated when he or she wants to return to classes, Courtney said.

“We hold the registration until we work out some kind of a treatment plan,” Courtney said. “When they demonstrate evidence that they are ready to come back, we usually lift the hold on registration.”
Courtney said several of these cases usually arise during a semester, and Wardenburg’s psychologists meet as a group to make the decision to offer a medical withdrawal.

Steve Bentley, the substance abuse program
coordinator at Wardenburg Health Center, said students seem to visit Wardenburg more frequently around midterms and finals wanting treatment for disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder.

Bentley also said the number of diagnosed psychological disorders among college students has been increasing over the years. He cited increased pressure on individuals as one of the possible reasons diagnoses of psychological disorders has risen.

“It isn’t just at CU, it’s national,” Bentley said, explaining that increased pressure and ambition to succeed might have created a culture that experiences more strain.

It “probably has to do with stress,” Bentley said. “I don’t know if it’s greater expectations of the day.”
Bentley said another possible reason students are turning to mental health services in greater numbers is the stigma of having a psychological disorder has decreased in recent years.

“Students recognize (getting help) is something they need to do to be successful,” Bentley said.

Bentley said students are more likely to realize they might have a psychological problem because diagnosable disorders are now more recognizable to average people.

“Students are more attuned to a response to stress and are aware of when they’re more off-centered with themselves,” Bentley explained. “They’re ok with seeking help to find some support.”

A third possible reason diagnoses have increased is the way improvements in mental health science have allowed people with debilitating disorders to do more than they could in years past, such as attending college, Bentley said.

With the influx of new patients, the challenge of finding ways to address those patients’ needs has emerged.

“All these pressures are having an impact on a health care system that is somewhat fragmented,” Bentley said.

Bentley also said many students who need help don’t get it, yet they have the same pressures as those who do get help.

A major group of students who might not be getting help are those who do not get health services at Wardenburg, Bentley said. For example, he explained, out-of-state students who do not have Wardenburg’s insurance plan do not know where they can easily get help.

Other mental health services on campus include a health center in Muenzinger, the Office of Victim Assistance in Willard, the Multicultural Center in Willard that provides six free counseling sessions to every student, and GLBT resources on campus, Bentley said.

“I think it’s really hard for someone to come to terms with realizing they need help, then to figure out how to get help in what is the most acutely stressful time in their lives,” Bentley said of college students with undiagnosed psychological disorders.

He said students come in wanting medication for ADD, but they are asked to provide some documentation of a previous diagnosis, and that Wardenburg will otherwise “ask that person to undergo some kind of testing” for a new diagnosis.

Courtney offered this advice to students who are struggling with mental or emotional problems.

“If you are approaching midterms or finals, it’s important that people are attending to self-care. That means eating well, sleeping well, exercising, and staying connected to supportive people. All these can help to manage one’s stress level,” Courtney said.

Colwell said her own experiences reflect that eating well and getting enough sleep are important to keeping her mood disorder under control. She said that being properly diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder helped her discover how things like diet and sleep can affect her.

“Before I knew what was going on, it was hard. I had a rough time with school,” Colwell said. “I would say to anyone who thinks they have any kind of disorder, talk to someone about it.”

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