Don’t stress, talk it out

Stress can kill.

But the Student Health Center hopes to help students find relief through group sessions.

There were five reported cases of students feeling suicidal during the semester, and they were provided with resources to aid them, according to an email sent out by the Student Health Center.

The Student Health Center provides clinical services, from flu shots to contraceptives. However, they have made it their priority to promote and raise awareness for mental health.  

“Stress is a big inhibitor of success, whether that’s educational, occupational, or daily success. If more students can manage their stress, they’re going to do better in school and in life,” said Student Health Center intern Sarah Eckstein.

Eckstein is also a group session leader for the Student Health Center’s stress groups that meet Monday and Wednesday evenings.

The stress groups are led by mental health professionals, specifically pre- and post-doctoral interns who specialize in facilitating group and individual therapy sessions.

Eckstein said learning and practicing mindfulness, the process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present, is important in the stress groups.

She said incorporating member-to-member feedback to show support and empathy for each other during sessions is important.

“Some stress groups are more structured with providing coping skills and providing a space for students to talk about their experiences and experience a sense of universality,” Eckstein said.

With the fall semester coming to a close, many students may be dealing with stress in school as they prepare for finals while working long hours.

A 2011 report by Kim Kubicek of Western Kentucky University states that 30 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelmed for most of the semester.

Beth Benne, the Director of the Student Health Center, said she understands the importance of solidarity in stress groups because she attends group sessions for parents.

“There is tremendous healing and growth with the validation of your feelings. This isn’t abnormal and it’s normal to feel this way. That alone is such a weight off,” Benne said.

Students of all ages and lifestyles have stress, but Eckstein said the average age of group participants is 20. She said the Health Center does outreach during the week on the Mall, where interested students can sign up at the pop-up booth.

Students interested in joining are individually evaluated by a mental health professional.

“We get an idea of what they need and which group they would fit better with,” said Niaz Khani, the supervising psychologist.

The Health Center began offering mental health services in 1998 and started with five weekly hours of therapy for all students on campus.

Now the center offers more than 100 hours for mental health treatment per week, and three full-time post-doctoral interns, in addition to Khani, are available for individual sessions.

Khani said mental health is becoming less stigmatized, and more people are coming in to the Health Center to receive help. She said the majority of participants discuss stress within their personal relationships.

“Sometimes it’s related to feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to balance all the different things they have to take care of,” Khani said.

Khani said students also find it difficult to allocate time for self care.

“If you’re not healthy, mentally and emotionally, you can’t focus. This is the best time to be able to build relationships, and if you’re not healthy, you may isolate,” Khani said. “It’s definitely going to affect your academic success.”

Oftentimes, Khani said, participants struggle when they “open up” and show their emotions during group sessions, but the reward is the connection they make with peers and with their therapist.

“Overtime, they feel more relieved because they let it out and they learned new tools to deal with stress,” Khani said.