Campus Conversation shares ideas for helping students cope with stress, anxiety

Campus Conversation

Jennifer Duffecy, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at UIC, speaks during the Oct. 30 Campus Conversation. (Photo: Jenny Fontaine)

The number of college students in need of mental health services is climbing around the country — and the UIC community is no exception, according to experts who spoke at the Oct. 30 Campus Conversation.

The event, titled “Mental Health and the University Student,” began with short presentations from five panel members and Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Poser, who was a moderator.

Joseph Hermes, director of the UIC Counseling Center, kicked off the discussion, showing recent survey data from the American College Health Association and National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA). More than 60 percent of college students report experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the last 12 months, according to the survey. About 45 percent experience overwhelming distress. Twelve percent said they have seriously considered suicide.

And a diagnosis of depression has a “clear impact on academic performance,” added Hermes, who pointed to supporting evidence from the Healthy Minds Network survey data.

Leah Goodman, visiting clinical instructor from the department of occupational therapy, said that 77 percent of students experiencing some distress have not received care.

Goodman suggested solutions, like offering credit-bearing courses that teach students coping skills or making changes in curricular models, both of which are low-cost methods of reaching more students, reducing barriers to care, and increasing opportunities for social engagement around the topic.

Jennifer Duffecy, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the College of Medicine, offered tech-based alternatives that students can use to deal with stress, such as apps for nutrition or sleep, wearables that track movement and activity, and other online interventions.

Kathleen Kashima, the College of Medicine’s senior associate dean of students, addressed high rates of physicians dying by suicide. Rush University’s Mona Shattell, a professor and chairperson for the department of community, systems and mental health nursing, stressed that everyone should have some role and responsibility.

“We can be there for people, we can talk to them, we can listen, we can refer, we can question,” Shattell said. “I think we should engage students and we should ask them, we shouldn’t pretend like it’s someone else’s job or it’s not our problem.”

All panelists agreed that there are still many other challenges people face that prevent them from getting the right care.

Provost Poser told the audience that a new committee at UIC is working to overcome some of those challenges, but panelists emphasized the need for more conversations around the topic.

“We need to figure out how to work collaboratively with our students and talk about these issues and figure out how we can best work as a community together so that we have a healthy UIC,” Kashima said.

The next Campus Conversation on Feb. 5 will cover politics and emotions.

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