Mental Health Center

Benjamin Spear, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center staff member, speaks at a stress management workshop hosted by the Student Employee Excellence Development Program on Tuesday afternoon. The workshop aimed to educate students about different ways they can handle their stress.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

It is no secret college students are stressed. The real secret is how to handle this stress. 

In a stress management workshop hosted by the Student Employee Excellence Development Program Tuesday, Dr. Laura Ebady, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center staff psychologist, talked to students and young adults about how to deal with overwhelming stress both on their own and with services offered through UT.

In the 2012 National College Health Assessment Survey taken by the UT Wellness Network, students indicated that stress is their biggest handicap to academic performance. This finding has been reflected in the same survey for several years.

“Clearly, for us, that is a big indicator that students are needing additional help in managing work in addition to other things they are involved with,” Ebady said. “I think college students have stressors that are unique to them in that this is the first time they are living on their own. Especially in a school the size of UT, it can be overwhelming figuring out where you fit in … It’s a whole lot to learn all
at once.” 

Ebady recommended deep breathing to the workshop participants as a way to provide perspective to stressful situations. In addition, stress-management services are provided to all students through the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. These services include a MindBody Lab, a Stress Recess website and counseling.

Dr. Jane Bost, UT Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said students experience more stress in college now than in previous years. University counseling centers are seeing more crises over the last 10 to 15 years than ever before, according to Bost.

“There’s more pressure [now] just to get into college, and then the academic standards have gotten more rigorous,” Bost said. “It seems that it is a harder balance for students to handle and balance all of the demands in their lives.”

With all of these factors in play, some students feel that a certain degree of stress is inevitable. Neurobiology sophomore Taylor Lindgren said she thinks stress is not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think that a healthy amount of stress is an inherent part of college,” Lindgren said. “Things important to you should stress you out — like getting good grades — but not overwhelmingly.”

Bost said it is important to be able to differentiate healthy stress from unhealthy stress.

“One of the things we talk about with stress is it’s not that we want to get rid of it. It’s not a bad thing,” Bost said. “Most of us, without some level of stress, wouldn’t perform well. It’s not a case of getting rid of stress, it’s a case of managing it and trying to keep it at a level to maximize performance.”

Additions to the Violence Against Women Act will better protect students on campus, University officials said.

The latest version of the act, passed by Congress in February, will require colleges and universities to strengthen policies regarding sexual assault and now address instances of hate crimes.

Jennifer Hammat, institutional Title IX coordinator and assistant vice president for student affairs, said the 70 required changes will increase the protection of students on campus and will likely help report crimes that may not have previously been reported.

“The transgender community will now be protected and that makes the campus a safer place for people in that situation,” Hammat said. “Stalking will also be a reportable crime, although that can be difficult to determine.”

The campus changes would add categories including national origin and gender identity to hate crimes, which will now include domestic violence, dating violence and stalking incidents reported to campus security or local law enforcement. These amendments will be implemented in the University’s 2015 Annual Security Report. 

Ayesha Akbar, journalism, humanities and liberal arts honors senior, said the legislation is especially valuable in a university setting. Akbar is president of UT’s Amnesty International chapter, which promotes awareness of human rights abuses, including sexual violence. 

“It’s incredibly important for college campuses to address sexual violence in order to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students,” Akbar said. “Sexual violence is, unfortunately, very prevalent on college campuses and we must target it by preventing assault and ensuring that victims of assault receive support and have access to necessary resources from campus officials.”

Jane Bost, Counseling and Mental Health Center associate director, said the act has a significant impact on campus because it originally helped fund Voices Against Violence, a program housed in the center. The program is now fully funded by the University, which shows UT’s commitment to preventing and addressing violence crimes, Bost said.

Voices Against Violence aims to prevent sexual violence, which they define as any kind of sexual contact against a person’s will and without consent, including sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse.

Bost said the center uses an empowerment model to help victims of sexual assault, allowing them to make the choice whether to report the incident to various campus authorities. Those authorities that help in pursuing criminal or civil cases and medical advice include the dean of students and Student Judicial Services.

“We will continue to offer all these options and work with them, whether they want to report it or not.” Bost said.

Bost said the Mental Health Center would not have to change any policies or submit any extra information for the campus annual report of such crimes. The center is not required to report any confidential information in its voluntary annual security report. 

More UT students who go to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center have urgent needs or serious mental health issues than in the past, according to center administrators.

This trend parallels similar changes nationwide. According to the American College Counseling Association’s 2010 national survey, 91 percent of counseling center directors reported a trend toward more severe cases at their colleges. The number of urgent student mental health cases has significantly increased for at least the past 10 years, according to the association’s survey.

At UT and nationwide, more students present mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, learning disabilities or psychiatric medication issues.

Since he became director of the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center in 2006, Dr. Chris Brownson said he has noticed a change in problems students bring to the center.

“I’d say in my time at the counseling center, we have seen an increase in the severity,” Brownson said. “At the same time, students still come in for other reasons, like dealing with a relationship or dealing with anxiety they feel is holding them back in classes.”

Dr. Jane Morgan Bost, associate director of the center, said the causes of these increases haven’t been researched fully but have a few probable causes. She said students today face increased academic pressures and widespread economic difficulties and uncertainty. Also, a higher number of students with serious mental health issues are able to attend college because of what newer medications and treatments contribute, she said.

Jared Loughner, the suspect in the Jan. 8 Arizona shooting that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in intensive care, showed signs of mental illness before the incident. Pima Community College, which Loughner briefly attended, identified warning signs of a potential mental illness in Loughner before the shooting. Although the college contacted Loughner’s parents, he never received medical attention from the school.

Loughner will appear in court before a federal judge Monday for his arraignment.

For cases where students present warning signs of mental illness or danger to other students, UT operates a Behavior Concerns Advice Line.

Bost said the behavior advice line helps the University find and address mental health issues similar to those Loughner presented. She said the line is operated by the Office of the Dean of Students and multiple UT departments. She said the Division of Student Affairs, the UT Center for Counseling and Mental Health, Services for Students with Disabilities and the UT Police Department all work together closely to provide students with the services they need.
She said a call on the advice line could result in anything from a call from student affairs to the beginning of a counseling program.

UTPD Detective Michael Riojas said when the line receives a tip, they usually notify the police department. Riojas said the police department usually takes action on a few cases a month, but the load distribution is inconsistent.

After being notified of a concern, Riojas said the department does research on the student in question and usually ends up either bringing the student in for a discussion with the dean of the Division of Student Affairs or sending out officers to interview the student.

Yesterday afternoon, freshmen across campus awoke from their first big-time college night out with their first big-time college hangover, validating a truth they long have suspected: Health in college is like chastity in the Playboy Mansion.

The rambunctious and youthful “college experience” is stringently defined and firmly embedded in our culture, so poor health is often excused as just a part of the college lifestyle, like procrastination and voting for Democrats.

To address this, the University holds seminars and information sessions at orientation about conventional ways to stay healthy in college, such as eating right, sleeping normal hours and moderating alcohol consumption. The problem is that when students realize they will not eat, sleep or drink normally, they usually give up on health altogether and suffer the consequences.

Unfortunately, because poor mental health is so widespread and expected, it goes unnoticed, and becomes the greatest obstacle of success for new college students.

Freshmen and transfer students are especially susceptible to emotional health issues. Being thrust from the comfort and familiarity of a high school or hometown into an environment where having 20 friends is impressive can be traumatic for even the hardiest of souls. In the next few weeks, many new students will encounter a crossroad and decide whether to continue socializing outside their comfort zone and hope to eventually make friends or to settle for the less enjoyable — but more immediately appealing and comfortable — option of spending all their time either in the dorm room or class. On paper, the former is clearly more enticing, but the latter is more common and harmful.

Demotivation spreads and social apathy can lead to disregarding grades, money or anything else. A study conducted among freshmen at Hofstra
University found that 41 percent reported moderate to severe depression during their first year of college.

Fortunately, UT has tremendous mental and emotional health resources.

The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center is the most pertinent resource. Located on the fifth floor of the Student Services Building, the center has a full professional staff for the sole purpose of stewarding the mental health of UT students and staff. Students interested should call (512) 471-3515 to make an appointment with either a psychologist or psychiatrist. While most students only meet with a therapist for one session and probably don’t pursue formal therapy, they do receive a professional mental health evaluation.

Unfortunately the center is often heavily booked, and getting an appointment can take weeks.

To supplement or even possibly circumvent the need for professional attention, join a student organization, which addresses many emotional problems such as loneliness, boredom and a sense of futility that often lead to more severe problems.

Those who miss the camaraderie of a high school debate team should join a political organization. With a highly contested election three months away, the University Democrats and College Republicans will certainly have plenty to do.

Those who want a nonpartisan group can look to the Senate of College Councils or the Student Events Center.

And if you wrote for your high school newspaper or yearbook, The Daily Texan is now holding tryouts.

There is a lot to do this semester. An election, more budget cuts and a legislative session in a few months will require an energetic, interested and healthy student body to protect the interests of students and the University.