By: Mariana Braz & Emily Lukasewycz
Maybe you’ve walked the halls of Mercer and seen a student crying or staring off into space with a painful look on her face. Maybe you’ve noticed the kid at the back of the class with the dark circles under his eyes who does nothing but stare the floor. Maybe you’ve worried about a comment a classmate has made about their personal life. Stay at the college long enough and you begin to see the signs. You begin to wonder about the state of our students’ mental health.
College students in general run a particularly high risk for psychological problems. In one controlled study published in The Journal of American College Health in 2008, researchers lead by Dr. Jeremy B. Yorgason found that “prevalence rates of psychological and psychiatric symptoms in randomly selected, nonclinical college student samples are about 30 percent.”
Yorgason’s group discovered that the most common mental illness reported by students to the college counselors were “suicidality, substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and high subjective ratings of distress.’”
As concerning as these findings are, Mercer’s students may exceed even the baseline standard for mental health risk among college students because the student body includes dense groups of at-risk populations including: minorities, gays and lesbians, women, those living in poverty and veterans.
To see if reality matched what seemed to be a statistical inevitability, the VOICE recently conducted a survey of 88 Mercer students regarding their mental health. The finding corresponded to what science would predict in disturbing detail.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 41% of Mercer students report having had suicidal thoughts
- 15% of Mercer students reported that they had attempted suicide
- 52% of Mercer students said they had faced depression, compared to a 26% national average
- 23% of Mercer students said that their mental health had affected their academic work
- 17% of Mercer students said they have suffered from an eating disorder, compared to a 4.4% national average
- 3 in 20 students discussed their mental health concerns with someone and only one of those spoke with a Mercer counselor
According to the National Institute of Mental Health when college students suffer from depression, it makes it difficult to keep up with their school work and life in general.
“Depression lowers my overall energy level and motivation,” said a Mercer student in our anonymous survey. “It makes it difficult to get up in the morning.”
Mercer’s primary service is to provide education, but with enrollment and retention decreasing steadily in recent years, it is necessary to consider how student health effects educational success and graduation outcomes.
Valerie Brooks-Klein was the Senior Counselor at MCCC from September 2009 to April 2012, according to her LinkedIn profile. Her profile describes her position as “Responsible for creating and maintaining psychological services for the college. Developing positive, preventive approach in creating resilience in our students as they pursue their goals with greater success.”
A Licensed Professional Counselor Dorothy Gasparro was hired in February of this year to fill the Senior Counselor position that was being filled by a temporary hire, according to Assistant Dean of Student Activities John Simone.
“ We’ve always had a senior counselor,” said Simone. Simone explained that, between the time that Brooks-Klein left and the hire of Dorothy Gasparro, Mercer hired temporary counselors for “a hundred and something days.”
Simone explained that the position of Senior Counselor “might have been vacant for three days, or a week, but it wasn’t vacant for months and months and months.”
The Senior Counselor’s main duties include assisting the student advocates (primarily an academic advising role) at Mercer and taking referrals from those who think the student would benefit from her help, according to Simone.
Gasparro told the VOICE that she can do therapy if it’s necessary and, according to Simone, she will be making herself available on the James Kerney Campus at least once a week and as needed.
When Gasparro makes referrals off campus, a primary resource is Mercer County Mental Health Administrator Michele Madiou told the VOICE that one of the options is to call the crisis line. “The crisis line is opened 24 hours a day and we also have a chat room now.” The crisis line number is (609) 896-2120.
Madiou says that the programs and services offered by the county are “publicly funded” and for that reason “they are accessible and affordable.”
As the VOICE survey found out, many students in distress do not look for help when they need it, and when they do, they do not look in the right places.
“Students are pretty bold about asking for help,” said Dr. Karen Bearce, Professor of Psychology at MCCC.
“One fifth of the student body reaches out to either me or other ‘psych’ professors about advising, test anxiety, or other mental health issues they’re having,” explained Bearce.
Bearce explained that reaching out to students would be a helpful way to show them where they could reach out for help from proper sources, and explained how she would do it. “It would be lovely to have a counceling table in the student center on days when offices do.”
Note: On March 19, 2013 this article was updated to included a bulleted list of survey findings that were originally presented as an infographic in the print version of the story.