Addressing the Mind Early: NU’s Push for Mental Health

With the semester well underway, many students will soon begin to turn their minds towards midterms, a time often synonymous with a high risk of mental health problems. Even without midterms, college is a time when most mental health issues make their appearance.

“Out of the general population, I’d say stress, anxiety and depression seem to be the most common problems,” said Jane Smith*, a student on campus. These problems  usually arise during overly stressful times such as midterms or finals, but they maintain a presence on campus even throughout the rest of the year.

Many people are unaware of how to deal with these mental health problems, whether they are recurring or appearing for the first time, but Niagara University has committed itself to providing resources and services to those struggling with these issues on campus. For example, several times a year the campus holds stress relief days, which can include coloring, massages and therapy dogs.

Counseling Services, located in the basement of Seton Hall, is the biggest resource available to students having problems with their mental health. While one can certainly find a lot of help on their website, Smith said “It can help to talk to an unbiased and trained professional that can offer more personalized ways to deal with stress and anxiety.”

Jane Johnson*, another NU student, as well as Smith, have both attended counseling sessions with Counseling Services and both have nothing but good things to say. “I really enjoyed going there,” said Johnson. “They were very professional, very nice, and very good at maintaining anonymity and being supportive.”

Smith and Johnson both agreed that social stigma against mental illness is one of the campus’ weakest points in the struggle. Smith explained that “One of the biggest things is that if you’re going to Counseling Services, it’s like there’s something wrong with you. People don’t focus on you getting help, they focus on there being something wrong with you.” Johnson agreed that the student body could definitely show more support and openness about the issue.

“People just need to be educated on it, but educating them is tricky because they won’t learn if they don’t want to and are closed-minded,” said Smith.

Dr. Abby Levin, NU Philosophy Professor and NU Beginnings (NUB) Director, is trying to do just that by implementing a new mental health initiative into the NUB coursework. She says that she and many other colleagues in several different disciplines began noticing that students were coming to office hours with mental health problems more often than in the past, and that Counseling Services was being used more and more.

Levin began to incorporate various mental health-oriented assignments and projects into the NUB curriculum in 2015 in an effort to raise awareness and educate students before it is too late to help them. “Early intervention is the best thing,” said Levin. “We are giving skills in the first year to help in the third year.”

The initiative begins by teaching about self-care, such as getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, and going to the gym. “Those kinds of things help no matter what, on top of helping things like depression and anxiety,” Levin explained. The group project has also changed to focus on stress-relief techniques like meditation and prayer, music, or herbal tea. Levin said the project can introduce students to the anxiety of group presentations and begin to offer ways to get over it.

This past semester, the NUB classes were split into several groups for a study. One group did guided meditation in each class while another kept gratitude journals, an activity shown to decrease depression and anxiety. A third group wrote a letter about the drinking habits of a pretend roommate, an exercise which NU Professor Dr. Osburg believes could reduce freshman drinking rates. NUB classes were tested on their mental health at the beginning and end of NUB, as well as at the end of the semester. While results on which method is most effective are still yet to be seen, Levin hopes to adopt one into the program.

Outside of her NUB initiative, Levin recommended reaching out to others for help. “Definitely talk to people because there are always other people in the same boat. We are a very caring campus and I would be really surprised if you turned to someone for help and didn’t feel better afterwards,” she said.

Both Smith and Johnson echoed this sentiment, although Johnson added that “There should definitely be more support for illnesses that may not be well known or don’t present as serious but can be really tough like anxiety or PTSD.”

To contact Counseling Services, visit the lower level of Seton Hall or call 716-286-8536.

*Disclaimers: Counseling Services was not responsible for any information provided in this article. All student names have been replaced with pseudonyms.

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