Counselors, advocates call for those suffering to speak up

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Though the signs may not always be obvious, mental illness is known to affect one out of every four Americans. One third of college students are affected with depression but often go on without being diagnosed. Those suffering are highly encouraged to visit the counseling center for help. Photo illustration by Steven Green, The Campus Ledger

Joe Hooper

Features editor

jhooper5@jccc.edu

Mental health is affected by many factors – even a change in the weather can have a significant effect on one’s mood and outlook on life. For most, mental illness is not an issue they have to deal with. But for the steady growing number of college students struggling with depression and anxiety, the college has the resources to help.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resources Center, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24, taking over 5,000 lives nationwide in 2014. Depression and anxiety, two of the major contributing factors to suicide, are diagnosable in nearly one in three college students. However, a study conducted by the American College Health Association showed only 20 percent of students were diagnosed as suffering from depression or anxiety by a medical professional.

Kristen Harth, a counselor at the college, says the low diagnosis rates may be due to the social stigma surrounding mental health. Harth says she believes, however, that mental illness has become less taboo in recent years. She says in each year of her 17-year tenure at the college, the demand for counseling for mental health reasons has increased, perhaps signaling that students are becoming more comfortable speaking about their problems.

“I think as the years have gone on it’s gotten better,” Harth said. “[Students] recognize the signs and they want to talk about it.”

Even with mental illness being seen in a more favorable light, Harth says seeking help is still a large hurdle to jump for those living with depression or anxiety.

“That’s a really brave step, to say ‘Hey, I’m suffering,’” Harth said.

For those who do take that courageous step, the counseling center is the place to start. By setting up an appointment at the counseling center, students are guaranteed an hour-long appointment with a counselor. Should the counselor or student feel the student’s issues are beyond their means or abilities, the student may choose to be referred to an outside therapist for five free sessions, paid for entirely by the student’s tuition. This is thanks to the Student Aid Program, or SAP, an offshoot of the Employee Aid Program, or EAP.

“I think it’s a really good support for students that have a lot of mental health needs, some we can provide [for] and some we can’t, so it’s a good safety net for some of our students,” said Casey Buchanan, another counselor at the college.  

If the student doesn’t feel their issues warrant the use of the SAP, they may choose to continue seeing the counselor or work through their problems using other resources on campus.

Buchanan formerly ran a mindfulness group at the college. The organization offered a meditative session during which he used his voice and breathing techniques to enable students to relax and suspend their worries to focus on the present.

“By using mindfulness, we’re basically becoming aware of the present moment and retraining the brain to respond in a more accurate way to the reality of the present moment, not making assumptions about things that we’re worried about in the future or concerned about from our past,” Buchanan said. “There’s been a lot of research that shows it’s effective for both depression and anxiety.”

Buchanan’s mindfulness group stopped meeting earlier this semester due to a lack of attendance, but he says he’d reopen the group if there were sufficient interest.  

Students who wish to speak more publicly about their issues and feelings are encouraged to attend the meetings of the JCCC chapter of Active Minds, a national organization that works to change the dialogue on mental illness.

Susie Sympson, psychology professor and sponsor of the JCCC chapter of Active Minds, says in order to change the public attitude towards mental illness, “the number one thing is for people who go through it to talk about it, and very few do.”

In addition to working to eliminate the social stigma surrounding mental health, Active Minds provides an open forum for those currently or formerly suffering from mental illness.

“It’s for people who do have psychological problems themselves, they want to talk to others who understand or they want to educate other people,” said Sympson, “but it’s also for people who know somebody [that suffers].”

Active Minds meets at 12 p.m. every Wednesday in room 102 of GP.

The Counseling Center is located on the second floor of the Student Center and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. To make an appointment, call 913-469-3809.

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