Mental health effects widespread on campus and beyond

Jenna Stephens—Staff Writer

I hesitantly walked up to the doorway. With no intention of actually sharing my story, I attended the Mental Illness Support Group meeting to gain some insight into the issue of mental illness in Sioux County. But before I knew it, I found myself writing my name on a nametag and joining the circle (choosing a chair near the door for an inconspicuous exit).

The cozy room—with its leather couches and flickering fireplace—contained nine people in addition to myself. I definitely looked out of place as the youngest by at least twenty years. But regardless of my age or original reason for attending, one thing connected me to each person there: We either struggle with a mental illness, or have a loved one who suffers from such a condition.

And it seems that nearly every human fits into one of these two categories.

Sixty-two percent of college students said they have experienced overwhelming anxiety in the last twelve months, and 40% said they experienced a time when they were so depressed that it was difficult to function, according to a 2017 survey conducted by American College Health Association (ACHA) of 84,000 college undergrad students. Dordt’s Campus Health Services reports similar trends to these national statistics. Dordt’s own ACHA survey, conducted in 2015, reflected the following statistics: 44.5% experienced overwhelming anxiety in the last 12 months, and 21.8% said that in the last 12 months, they felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. The top three mental health issues on campus are depression, anxiety and relationship issues.

Beth Baas, a nurse and director of Campus Health at Dordt, uses an analogy to show the significance of an individual’s mental health. If you picture health as a stool, the three legs would be physical, spiritual and mental/emotional health. If one leg is out of balance, the others are affected. Poor mental health can take a toll on academics, relationships, and many other aspects of life.

Unfortunately, there is no clear definition for what is considered mentally “healthy.”

“What you think is mentally healthy for you might be different from someone else,” Baas said.

But when this leg of the stool becomes off-balance, reaching out to a trusted friend or getting professional help can be necessary.

Campus Health Counseling Services appointments are available to students struggling with their mental health. Res Life, Pastoral Care and Career Services are other services on campus which can provide support for relationship, spiritual or career and calling concerns. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Support Group also meets in the Fireside Room of Central Reformed Church once a month.

“It helps you realize you’re not alone,” said one Support Group member. Talking about experiences in a confidential environment allows participants to empathize and share the pain of mental illness.

“There’s no stigma attached to reaching out,” Baas said. “Accessing care somehow is that first step.”

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