“No Symptom is Too Small”: Mental Health Resources for Students Adjusting to Back-to-School – Bemidji Pioneer
BEMIDJI — Going to college can be a stressful experience for anyone, as students are faced with a new environment, new people, and a surprisingly long list of new expectations and responsibilities.
While this can be exciting, it can also leave students feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed.
Often away from home and their former support systems, it is not uncommon for students to have mental health issues and these issues are on the rise.
That’s where services like Bemidji State University’s Student Health and Counseling Services come in, which provides students with resources and support to help improve their mental health.
A recent study, part of the Healthy Minds Network which analyzes trends in mental health among college populations, found that approximately 60% of past year students met criteria for one or more mental health issues. Mental Health. This is an increase of almost 50% since the start of the study in 2013.
“As students return to school, we know there is an increase in anxiety,” said Kirsten Craft, clinical lead and behavioral health specialist at Sanford Health. “Being away from family is stressful, especially for new students.”
Now, alongside the usual adjustments, students across the country have also faced the added stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years.
“The volumes (of mental health calls) have increased dramatically since the pandemic,” Craft said, “and now as we go further, reintegrating into communities and what people were doing before increases some of those anxieties. “
For students in particular, the past two years have been unusual. The sudden transition to online learning, and now back to in-person classes, has left many students facing additional and unexpected stress.
“There are the typical challenges, but now this group of students have had this period of time with online learning. Now they are in the middle of two transitions: back in person and going to college,” said Jennifer Fraik, nurse practitioner at BSU.
BSU, which participated in the Healthy Minds Network survey thanks to the work of associate psychology professor Dr. Sarah Cronin, now has its own numbers for student mental health.
Among BSU’s only students in 2021, 32% tested positive on a screening for anxiety and 37% tested positive for depression, while 49% received at some point in their life a mental health diagnosis.
With numbers like these rising, the importance of discussing mental health with students and providing them with access to resources and treatment has also increased.
“Huge adjustments can bring out bigger stressors, and those stressors can trigger more mental health symptoms than normal,” said Amanda Gartner, mental health counselor at BSU. “We are really pushing to de-stigmatize mental health. Everyone is welcome (to ask for help), no symptom is too small.
Signs someone might be struggling
It is essential to recognize the potential signs of mental health problems, but it is important to remember that mental health presents differently in each individual. Something unusual for one person may be typical for another.
“It’s so individual, each person presents different things,” Fraik explained. “Some people have body symptoms and come to me for lack of appetite, stomach pain, inability to eat or sleep.”
Sometimes when a student approaches Fraik with these concerns, the conversation begins to uncover causes that may be more related to the student’s mental health.
“That’s when I usually introduce the idea that it might be helpful to speak to one of our counselors and talk about any anxiety you might have, or any symptoms we have. discovered medically,” Fraik said.
While stress and mental health concerns may express themselves physically in some people, in others the signs may take a different form, such as socially withdrawing or being easily irritated.
“Especially if people are feeling more depressed, (a sign might be) withdrawing from things they normally would do, irritability is often a common issue we see,” Gartner explained. “It’s easier to be angry than to feel sad or anxious, or maybe you’re so tired of holding it all together that suddenly you’re laughing at everyone.”
Significant changes in behavior and mood can be signs that a person has mental health issues, and these can be difficult to recognize, even for the person going through them.
“There is also this group that is very concerned that their problems are not serious enough to get help. You see this especially with students on the perfectionist side because they are high achievers,” Gartner explained. “It can always be useful to come and see us. Sometimes we also need to break that personal stigma.
Recognizing these signs and deciding to seek help can be difficult, but it can be the first step in helping to alleviate and manage any mental health issue.
“You’re not on a continuum compared to everyone else. You are on your own continuum,” Fraik said. “Our goal is to help people early on when they start to discover they’re having a little trouble with anything in life.”
After you notice someone is struggling, talking about it with them is the next step. Gartner explained that it’s important to validate their feelings and see if they would be willing to consult an advisor or other professional.
“Getting a foot in the doorway, into medicine, counseling, it doesn’t really matter — whatever they’re willing to do,” Gartner said.
Although these conversations can be uncomfortable at first, there are resources available on how to have them. Craft, who works with a local mobile crisis line, stressed that anyone is welcome to call, even if it’s a parent looking for advice on how to talk about mental health with their child. child.
“Normalizing that experience of difficulty for them (is important) and exploring it with them,” Craft said. “Asking ‘If you can’t talk to me, would you like me to find someone you can talk to?'”
Knowing about locally available resources is also helpful to incorporate into these conversations.
“Sometimes it’s hard when you’re in a depressed state to find these resources, so having them readily available can be really helpful,” Craft explained.
For students, most campuses offer some form of counseling. There are also off-campus resources that these offices can direct students to.
In Bemidji, BSU and Northwest Technical College have Counseling and Health Services, which can provide individual and group counseling, medication management, and a number of other services. They can also help students access off-campus care, set up insurance plans, and find other resources.
The local mobile crisis line (800) 422-0045 is also available to everyone. This line can be reached by someone in active crisis, someone looking for advice or a list of resources, or someone concerned about a friend or family member.
When students return to school, their mental health and well-being should be a priority. It’s normal for people of all ages who find themselves in a stressful situation to struggle, and discussing and responding to these issues can prevent them from growing.
“It’s okay to talk about it,” Fraik said. “No matter the subject, it’s important that we take care of it.”