If you were to ask students what the greatest health concern is here at Amherst College, they might give answers such as the binge-drinking culture, or maybe the recent measles breakout over at Smith. However, there is a major health concern that flies under the radar even though it affects a significant number of students on a daily basis. It can go quiet and unnoticed, and if it is noticed, it is often brushed off.
The widespread prevalence of depression and anxiety among students is a troubling topic that deserves to be addressed. In a 2012 health survey at Amherst, 33% of students reported having been so depressed that it was difficult to function. It’s a concerning statistic, and it’s also important to note that it is higher than the national average for college students (31%). If this statistic seems surprising, it may be because depressive behavior is not immediately apparent to others and often goes unnoticed unless help is sought out. Unfortunately, many students dismiss these serious problems as being an expected or normal part of Amherst’s academic rigor. Granted, some level of stress is expected, but what if stress spirals out of control?
Depression is often triggered by outside factors: a loss, a breakup, a traumatic experience, or academic stress. That being said, outside factors are not always the root of the problem. Feelings of low self worth, lack of control or lack of support from friends or family can contribute to depressive behavior. Depression can also arise from a combination of seemingly small events that align and cause feelings of hopelessness or despair.
Anxiety disorders are similar in that they can be caused by internal factors, external factors or a combination. While anxiety is a normal human emotion, those with anxiety disorders can experience the emotion on a constant basis and sometimes without warning. Test anxiety and social anxiety are common forms of this disorder.
College students are especially susceptible to stress, depression and anxiety. Fortunately, college students also have the incredible opportunity to receive free counseling from the Counseling Center. While therapists and psychiatrists in the outside world can be wildly expensive, Amherst’s counseling center offers free and easily accessible appointments to anyone, regardless of the reason. Many students know that the Counseling Center exists but have the notion that their problem isn’t “big” enough to warrant making an appointment. The Counseling Center will help students with any number of problems, big or small. The opportunity to talk to someone in a non-judgmental, confidential environment can lift a substantial amount of weight off of one’s shoulders.
In an effort to address mental health issues on campus and de-stigmatize the Counseling Center, a number of groups on campus are holding events this week. Yesterday, the CCE, SHEs, Keep Sound Minds, TWLOHA, the Mental Health and Wellness Task Force and the Counseling Center sponsored a “Stress Management and Resiliency Event.” The event featured the premiere of the film “Let’s Talk,” sponsored by Mental Health Education and filmed by Kate Beemer ’15 and Annika Nygren ’16. The film aims to start discussions surrounding de-stigmatizing struggling at Amherst.
“Whether it be with friends, an RC, a professor, the Counseling Center or any of the other fabulous resources we have here on campus, we want people to start being more open with each other and themselves” said Annika Nygren ’16.
The film features four students who bravely share their “story” of a time in which they struggled, and the resources they used to overcome their situation.
“On our small campus and with the number of students we had participate in the filming, Kate and I believe that every Amherst student who watches this video will recognize at least one person throughout the film,” said Nygren.
“Let’s Talk” encourages students to open up to the peers that they trust and also be good listeners. For those who want to improve their listening skills, Mental Health Educator Jessica Gifford is teaming up with the Peer Advocates to host an Active Listening Skills workshop. The workshop will be this Thursday evening from 7-8:30 p.m. in the McCaffrey room.
The SHEs are hosting a number of events this week to promote mental health and well-being amongst students. Tonight, Professor of Economics Daniel Barbezat will host a talk titled “Well Being at Amherst: a Discussion about Daily Stresses and Pursuing Happiness.” Professor Barbezat, who recently authored a book on mindfulness in higher education, teaches a first-year seminar called “Happiness” and an Economics course called “Consumption and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The talk will be at 8 p.m. in Pruyne lecture hall.
Additionally, the SHEs are hosting a day to “unplug” from technology on Thursday, April 10th. Technology use has been linked to higher levels of stress, anxiety and loss of sleep. Students can sign up in Keefe to participate in a technology-free hike with the SHEs on Thursday afternoon.
For those who would like to learn more, the Counseling Center is hosting an open house on Thursday, April 17th from 3:30 to 5 p.m.. Students can meet the staff and refreshments will be provided.
Stress can seem like a daily part of life to Amherst students. If it escalates quickly, feels overwhelming or gets in the way of normal daily activities, help is easily accessible. To avoid a level of stress that becomes problematic, students of all backgrounds should consider making an appointment at the Counseling Center. No problem is too small, and talking to someone can help get students back on track to enjoying all the wonderful opportunities that Amherst has to offer.