Mental health matters
By Whitney Smith , firstname.lastname@example.org
According to a national survey from the American College Health Association, in 2012 more than 80 percent of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do. But, the same survey shows the stigma associated with mental illness is preventing many students from seeking help.
Senior Margaret Kramer is working to change that. Kramer knows firsthand what it’s like to deal with mental health issues. Her personal experiences battling an eating disorder during high school led her to become a Changing Carolina peer leader and an advocate for mental health at the University of South Carolina.
“Changing Carolina gave me a direction for what I was really passionate about," Kramer says. "I knew mental health was really important to me, but I didn’t know what was out there as far as how I could bring that passion to life.”
Through her peer leader experience, Kramer found a way to channel that passion toward ensuring that all students dealing with mental health issues are able to get help and feel comfortable and supported by their fellow students, without fear of being judged.
“Mental health affects everyone," she says. "A lot of the time we hear ‘physical health’ and don’t immediately think of a severe illness, but with mental health people often jump to ‘psychotic disorder’ or ‘crazy.' But it’s a spectrum, just like with physical health. For students, talking about how they're feeling might be uncomfortable, but it’s important to be brave and talk to someone.”
Tiffany Fishburne agrees. As a graduate student in the health promotion, education and behavior program and a graduate assistant at the Counseling and Human Development Center, she's helping students become more aware of mental health issues so they understand it's okay to seek help.
“It’s so important to increase awareness so that when people say ‘I’m going to the counseling center’ the reaction isn’t ‘Well, what’s wrong with you?’ it’s, ‘I should do that myself,’ so we can create a culture where we’re helping each other and helping ourselves,” Fishburne says.
Helping each other begins by showing concern for one another, says Jennifer Myers, assistant director of campus mental health initiatives and coordinator of suicide prevention services.
"Whenever you notice that something is very different or not quite right — changes in eating habits, sleeping habits, withdrawing or isolating, significant mood changes, too happy or quite sad — approach the person privately and start from a place of concern," Myers says. "Say something like, 'I notice you haven't been quite the same recently. You haven't been hanging out as much, and I'm wondering what's going on.'"
Myers recommends leaving plenty of space to listen to the person, then asking, "What can I do to help? Can I connect you with campus resources?"
Self-care is as important as caring for friends, she adds.
"Do something each day to take care of your own mental health," she says. "And be willing to talk about mental health, depression and anxiety. We shouldn't be accepting our current levels of stress but instead striving for a healthy culture."
If you are experiencing stress, depression, anxiety or want to talk about concerns including relationship difficulties, sexuality, eating or substance use, please contact the Counseling and Human Development Center at 803-777-5223. Our trained counselors can speak privately and confidentially with you. In an emergency, call 911 immediately.
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