SF State mental health resources are often overlooked

What student hasn’t felt the increased heart rate before an exam, stomach ache when anticipating future projects, perspiration while rapidly trying to register for classes? These feelings of anxiety are not uncommon for college students to experience. Although the University offers outlets for dealing with the constant pressure of the college experience, students are left ignorant of their underutilized resources.

A recent study by the American Psychology Association found that the number of students on psychiatric medicines due to mental illness increased more than 15 percent in the last 10 years. The study also found an increase of insomnia and depression among college students.

This may not be surprising for those of us who are familiar with the steady stress of budget cuts, rising tuition and class workload. What is surprising, however, is the amount of untapped resources available for students just around the corner.

The student services at SF State is an amenity on campus that students overlook as a way to cope with increased anxiety. While students are aware of the Student Services building as the place to pay tuition and class fees, only a handful know about the Counseling and Psychological Services located on the second floor. Last year less than four percent of the student population used the services at least once, according to front desk operator Marcos Soriano.

University President Robert A. Corrigan recently sent an email to students regarding the tragedy at Oikos University in Oakland, in which six people were shot. The email offered sympathy for the community, discussed campus safety and urged students who may feel anxious or stressed about the event to visit the Counseling and Psychological Services, which is designed to help students manage stress.

The magnitude of this event is unmistakable and it is inevitable that mental health and depression is highlighted in times of tragedy. However, the urging of campus facilities like psychological services should not be saved for tragedies, but advertised to students year round.

Apart from the University website that offers wellness tips and an introduction to stress, the University needs to take the promotion from the computer and force it into the daily lives of students with flyers or an information booth. For a student suffering with severe stress or mental illness, promotion of these services may prove to be invaluable.

Students are also held partially responsible for not accessing these resources due to a lack of awareness or interest. Even though health costs are embedded into tuition, students don’t always utilize every aspect of this facility. Many students are unaware of the free and helpful resources that the University offers to deal with anxiety and depression.

For example, each SF State student is entitled to five free psychological counseling sessions each year. Regardless of how severe the anxiety, it is important for students to be conscious of these services and to utilize every possible outlet offered.

Students may feel hesitant to take advantage of the psychological resources due to the stigmas associated with therapy or mental health. Students may think mental illnesses only refers to extreme cases of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but in actuality mental health and illness can refer to temporary, severe anxiety and depression that many students may experience in stressful situations.
Some students may feel they don’t need any kind of mental health assistance, but an APA study found that students who discuss their concerns with friends or counselors experience decreased anxiety and stress. These psychological and counseling services provide a healthy alternative when dealing with stress and anxiety that may help avoid mental illness or health consequences.

University of Michigan Health System experts released a study that found a growing number of college students turned to stimulants like ADHD medications and energy drinks to help cope in times of stress. The study found that use of these stimulants could lead to depression, irritability, stomach aches and headaches. Serious use could lead to dangerous side effects including hypertension and stroke.

This high level of anxiety and depression isn’t something the average student deals with. For those who do suffer from mental illness, they may have already sought out coping strategies. But for all students, whether facing individual or community trauma, there needs to be awareness that there are on-campus resources available to deal with depression and stress.

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  • When Cronin came into our office to ask how many students use our services, I did not tell her “less than 4 percent.” What I did tell her was “around 1,200 different students came at least once last year. Most of them came about 3 times.” Cronin must have taken my “around 1,200” number and done some shoddy arithmetic to come up with “less than 4 percent.” I never said it. (And by the way, the SFSU website lists total enrollment for Fall 2010 as 29,718; 1,200 students is more than 4 percent of that, not less.)

    Quibbling over percentages, in any case, is misleading in this situation. Cronin assumes that we are an “often overlooked” and “underutilized” resource because the percentage of students who use our services is relatively small when compared to the total number of students that attend SFSU. By this same logic you could argue that the Journalism department is underutilized because less than 2 percent of the SFSU student body picks Journalism as a major. And yet Journalism is an impacted program.

    Shoddy arithmetic and lazy journalism in themselves are bad enough, but in this particular situation the results are all the more deplorable because they paint an inaccurate picture of Counseling and Psychological Services. Reading Cronin’s opinion piece, a student might assume that our counselors are just sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, hoping a student will show up. The reality is that we are a small office working with a comparatively very large clientele–those 1,200 hundred students I mentioned, who came in an average of three times each, were seen by a staff of 4 full-time counselors and 4 half-time counselors. Our current waiting time for an intake appointment is about three weeks, and on top of that we’ve got 29 student names on our waiting list.

    Despite the shortcomings of Cronin’s piece, and the grossly inaccurate picture of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center that results, there is one sentiment Cronin expresses that I would like to emphasize: “psychological and counseling services provide a healthy alternative when dealing with stress and anxiety that may help avoid mental illness or health consequences.” I encourage interested students to come in to the Counseling Center, and I will do my best to arrange for the student to meet with a counselor as quickly and conveniently as possible, given the realities of our situation.