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More college students than ever before are utilizing counseling services provided by their school. According to mental health experts, several factors could be responsible for this trend.
“I think nationwide it’s becoming more acceptable to seek out help and support as it relates to mental health,” said Frank LaTerra-Bellino, Director of the Wellness Center at LaGuardia Community College, which provides counseling services to students. “I think there is still a stigma when it comes to seeking out assistance, but it’s becoming more acceptable in the college-aged range.”
Current students are especially susceptible to the stressors of college life. According to Regina Varin-Mignamo, LaGuardia’s Manager of Health and Wellness Education and Grant Development, the omnipresence of social media in people’s lives could be having detrimental effects. “A lot of socialization happens online, to the point that when presented with face to face situations, things can become very difficult and some students have trouble navigating that,” Ms. Mignamo said. “We get students that come in with more virtual relationships than real ones.”
The diminished value of a bachelor’s degree and record-high student loans may also be a factor contributing to college student’s mental health issues. Judith Green, Director of Ramapo College’s Center for Health & Counseling services, told NBC News that, “Students are working so much more to contribute and pay for college. Seniors don’t have jobs lined up yet.”
LaGuardia students are no exception when it comes to feeling such economic concerns, and in fact, according to Mr. LaTerra-Bellino, financial issues stand out as catalysts for mental health issues at the college. “Just about every student that I have seen, when they complete their intake, there is some level of stress related to finances. The end result of those stressors is depression and anxiety as well.”
This sentiment is shared by Professor Bert Eisenstadt, head of the LaGuardia Writing Center. “The big issue that is on people’s minds at LaGuardia is economic security, not school. So many LaGuardia students have full-fledged lives that are their primary concerns and should be their primary concerns.” Professor Eisenstadt continued by saying that, “I’ve had a number of students come to talk to me about whether they should take a job that was going to interfere with our course – meaning they would drop it and take an F. Or should they not take the job, do okay in the class, but not be able to pay the rent?”
One LaGuardia student, a freshman who asked that his name be withheld and is returning to college after twenty years, said that mental health health is “not as scary a conversation as it once was. It’s a less taboo subject.” He feels that the biggest college-induced stressor he grapples with is “The fear of failure and non-accomplishment. Going back as an older student, there is a different perspective. But the anxiety is still there.”
UCLA’s 2016 Higher Education Research Institute found that twelve percent of freshmen describe themselves as frequently depressed. Furthermore, Penn State’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health stated, in its 2016 annual report, that over 110,000 students at 140 colleges sought out counseling.
Sebastian Tuinder, a sophomore Liberal Arts major, agreed that mental health issues among college students are common. “I’d say its prevalent. The amount of stress that students are put under – it’s gonna come out quite commonly. My sister suffered from terrible anxiety while getting her Ph.D. My wife at law school – terrible, terrible anxiety. This is because of school.”
But despite the mental challenges posed to today’s college students, Mr. Laterra-Bellino is optimistic about the student’s ability to surmount his or her psychological obstacles. “A student that may be overwhelmed and feel that their situation will never get better”, he said, “can work with a counselor to receive support, learn coping strategies, and find solutions to problems. Through counseling, students can feel empowered and hopeful that change is possible.”
The LaGuardia Wellness Center, located in room C-249, is staffed by eight full-time and two part-time counselors, thereby offering full-time, in-house psychiatric services. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, only thirteen percent of colleges across the country provide such resources.
Offering some advice to college students everywhere feeling the mental strain, Mr. Laterra-Bellino advises that “Just as you would visit a doctor when you’re feeling ill, you should seek the same kind of support when something is going on psychologically or emotionally. It’s what I believe makes people successful, to seek out help when you need it. You don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to seek out help, you can be preemptive and do it now.”