The amount of students who visit the Fort Lewis College counseling center has increased every year over the past few years, and campus counselors credit the increased numbers to a declining stigma around mental health disorders..
Seasonal affective disorder, which usually arises during fall and winter, shares similarities to mental health issues and there are many ways to combat both.
In the past five to ten years, college campuses around the United States have seen a 30 percent increase in mental health disorders, Brian Burke, professor of psychology said.
Student Affairs at FLC has observed that more students are dealing with stress and psychological issues in the past decade, he said.
The FLC counseling center typically sees about 20 percent of the student body, Karen Nakayama, a psychologist and counselor at FLC said.
“We’re seeing students that have more complex and severe mental health issues.” Nakayama said, “The biggest reason college students come in nationwide to counseling centers is anxiety first and depression second.”
Autism, bipolar disorder and psychotic issues are among the more complex and severe mental health issues the counseling center sees more frequently now, Nakayama said.
Studies have shown that younger generations today are ten times more likely to have depression than their grandparents, Burke said.
Mental health issues are more common than being left-handed, Andrea Vasquez, a senior psychology student and the Wellness Peer Advisory Council communications director, said.
War and political climates could be contributing to the instability of mental health, Nakayama said. Another reason could be student debt paired with the possibility of a non-sustainable income immediately after graduation, she said.
The mental health crisis in America could be a result of various circumstances but also an outcome of social acceptance for counseling. People are not only going to counseling earlier in their life but also when they are feeling successful, Burke said.
The counseling center gives FLC students four free counseling sessions each semester, Burke said.
Many people endure anxiety, depression and/or trauma at some point in life, he said. Whether these issues are temporary or consistent throughout a lifetime, the growing outreach for guidance could be a positive sign, he said.
“We are aware, we are taking the problem seriously, we’re available for anyone to talk to and ultimately to help them get the support that they need.” Burke said, “I think that we are doing a very good job locally and on campus reducing that stigma even further.”
Anxiety can have subtle or severe physical symptoms outside the mental or emotional state, Nakayama said. The evolutionary fight, flight or freeze response can be triggered by stress, she said.
These symptoms can include an increased heart rate, acute vision, muscle tension, chest and stomach tightness, jaw clenching and cold extremities, Nakayama said.
Depression does not always give obvious symptoms and can include memory and concentration problems, losing interest, and having self doubt or self esteem issues. A change in appetite as well as feeling tired even though you’re sleeping enough are also signs of depression, Burke said.
Seasonal depression, which usually occurs when the weather becomes gloomy and cold, could increase signs of anxiety and depression as it leads people to be less physically and socially active, Burke said.
Part of this condition comes from the amount of sunlight and vitamin D retrieved for the body, Nakayama said. It affects the melatonin system which is responsible for the sleep cycle, and serotonin system which is responsible for mood and sleep, she said.
Seasonal affective disorder can come from a lack of sunlight and exercise along with reclusion. A sedentary lifestyle combined with the fast paced culture humans live in now could cause mental health issues, Burke said.
Burke suggests going for a hike, snowshoeing, or another form of exercise, he said.
Staying inside on a device rather than going out, or spending time on social media rather than having real interactions, could create susceptibility to anxiety or depression. Individuals who spend over five hours a day on their device could be putting themselves in constant isolation, Burke said.
When one is not present and chooses to use their phone or leave it out while spending time with friends they create a disconnection from world around them, Vasquez says.
“Being in the moment and savoring everything that we have, those exchanges, the raindrops outside, the snow on the ground, I think is something that’s slowly dwindling in our society,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez recommends putting phones away, especially when socializing. If one chooses to primarily live in the real world they might feel happier and be able to help others, she says.
If a friend is struggling with their mental health, allow them to open up in a fashion that suits them, Vasquez said.. If that means sitting in silence or listening to them spill out their thoughts, just be available, she said.
“Affirm, listen, and don’t make it about you.” She said, “Keep it about them and just be there.”
WellPAC has certified peer consultants, which are students who help their peers create strategies to achieve their educational and personal goals, Vasquez said. Peer consultations can provide introductory counseling sessions and are also there to provide support, whether that means being an open ear or helping someone study, she said.
Reaching out for counseling does not necessarily mean someone has a problem, Vasquez said. It means they are empowered to take care of themselves.
“Life is messy, life is complicated, life is challenging, and we want to be able to live in spite of those problems,” Burke said. “When we say mental health, what we’re aiming for is not the absence of problems. It’s people who have anxiety, who have trauma, those things aren’t going away, what we’re hoping for is for people to learn to live with them.”