Walking through the library on any given day, it’s easy to see the origins of what could grow into potential mental health concerns for students — stacks of books, a large coffee in hand, yawning or perhaps a head on the table from exhaustion, all clear signs of a stressful week in academia.
Yet, these are all normal sights for a library and, more so, normal lifestyles for college students. As Counseling and Consultation Services clinical social worker Cathy Greer Cole said, the college lifestyle can sometimes compromise the importance of sleep, nutrition and exercise. This, she said, may make college students increasingly susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns.
“College students are humans, and dealing with issues of depression, anxiety, life stressors, adjustment to change and loss and all of the above are just part of the human condition,” Cole said. “However, there can be more stress in terms of being away from home and I also think there are certain practical things like sleep and nutrition that can play a part in aggravating underlying issues of depression and anxiety.”
Cole said she and her colleagues see around 24 to 28 students every week for individual counseling or consultation. The office also provides group counseling, which typically includes seven to 10 students per group.
“At first, I went in (to the campus counseling office) and that was actually what (psychologist John MacDevitt) suggested right away,” said Shea Cherro, a student who has been using the consultation and counseling services office for over a year, in regards to the group counseling options. “He was like ‘I’m starting a group session tonight.’ I was like, ‘no thank you,’ but I went and just fell in love with it.”
Cherro, who is a senior studying community health education, said that she is now doing one-on-one therapy with MacDevitt, and has been enjoying it so far this semester. Additionally, Cherro tries to be as open as possible with friends and family in regards to her mental health concerns, hoping that in the future others facing similar concerns will not be afraid to open up.
“I think in general mental health isn’t talked about enough,” she said. “It’s a topic that is very worrisome to talk about for people. But the more I can talk about it and make other people feel good about it, the better.”
Cherro has been one of the many leading influences in establishing the To Write Love on Her Arms NMU chapter, which aims to raise awareness about student mental health concerns and also provides a peer resource for students.
In addition to this growing campus organization, Northern provides a variety of other resources on campus for students facing anxiety, depression and other concerns.
“Like many college counseling centers across the country, we could use more staffing resources because the need is there,” she said. “Some larger campuses also have additional resources through student mental health programs such as Active Minds at the University of Michigan that is a peer support program for students with mental health needs.”
There are, however, an array of other campus resources that are helpful for students. Among them are the light therapy rooms located in the counseling office at 3405 Hedgcock, which are available for individuals who may be experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and include a lamp that emits artificial sunlight.
Another service provided by the counseling and consultation office are emergency appointments, which are available Monday through Friday during office hours for students who are experiencing a crisis, suicidal thoughts or other mental health emergencies.
However, Cole emphasized the importance—and prevalence—of preventative measures in all of this. NMU, she said, has a good system in place in order to provide students with resources to prevent these sorts of concerns.
“Students can help themselves by taking preventative measures such as regular exercise,” she said. “I mean, in terms of being able to use exercise and the PEIF as a great preventative measure — that can also be helpful when an individual is going through depression. Exercise can go a long way.”
Student resident adviser Kristina Mazic of the Fantasia House in Halverson Hall said she tries to provide that sort of resource to the residents in her hall.
“My job is to just listen and guide them but I’m not really a therapist, so I can’t treat them like that,” Mazic said. “But I do always recommend the counseling center on campus and I know a lot of them end up going there, and find it very helpful. Listening is always good though.”
And while counseling is helpful, students can also benefit from utilizing the health center, where they may be provided with a medication consultation.
“We try to look at other things first,” Cole said in reference to medication. “For example, we emphasize sleep, stress and nutrition before considering medication. If they’re doing those things and still having a hard time, I might suggest they have what I call a medication consultation and talk to a doctor.
“Usually it’s a combination of things. If you’re staying up all night and you’re not eating well and then you go on an antidepressant, it’s like you’re taking anti-cholesterol medication and eating at McDonalds every day.”