Mental health graphic

Graphic from National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Taylor Richardson said she has struggled with anxiety her entire life.

“I didn’t realize it though until last year,” said Richardson, sophomore nursing major. “The first time I can remember having an anxiety attack, or a lot of anxiety, was probably fourth or third grade.”

The number of children and young adults facing mental illnesses, such as anxiety, has increased within the last decade. In the past 10 years, there has been a 17 percent increase in anxiety disorder diagnoses alone, according to Child Mind Institute.

College students, especially, find themselves battling a variety of mental health concerns when moving into a new environment. Making friends and balancing the workload, while still having time to care for oneself can be difficult. However, many students enter college unaware of pre-existing mental illnesses, just like Richardson.

“Freshman year, last year, was really bad,” Richardson said. “I would stay up until like 3 or 4 a.m. in my dorm, working on homework, and I would go through crazy periods where I would just come and cry and cry in my bed.

“I finally came to the realization, ‘I need help.’ I tried to do different things. My mom and I talked a long time about how I could journal, and I tried to do yoga. It just wasn’t helping me enough, where I could live my daily life and not feel like my heart was racing 100 percent of the time.”

Last semester Richardson received professional help and was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. After many conversations with her doctor, Richardson decided to start taking anti-anxiety medication, allowing her to manage regular day-to-day tasks.

Sophomore psychology major Ashley Collins was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder last October.

Throughout her freshman year, Collins said she frequently skipped class, failed one, partied often and spent all of the money she had brought with her to college. Collins soon began to see the negative decline of her actions and sought out the counseling center on campus. By her third session, she was recommended to see a psychiatrist.

“I started showing symptoms around 13 and I just was like, ‘Well, I’m a teenager going through all that stuff. Whatever,’” Collins said.

It was not until she spoke with mental health clinician Shaun Fossett at the counseling center that she realized her emotions were deeper and affecting her mental health.

The counseling center is a resource available to all Missouri State students. Students are allowed up to eight appointments at no cost.

During the 2017-2018 school year, the counseling center provided 3,727 counseling sessions to students, according to its 2017-2018 annual report. This is an over three-fold increase in the number of students seeking mental health care since 2010 when the counseling center only provided 1,415 sessions.

With this increase, the Counseling Center hired three new staff members over the last four years, according to the counseling center director Rhonda Lesley. The counseling center also adopted the solution-focused brief therapy model in 2015. This type of therapy is intended to help students in a quick, yet effective way, allowing clinicians the opportunity to see more students daily.

Along with the counseling center, there are many other resources on campus that are intended to help students better understand mental health.

Active Minds and National Alliance on Mental Illness, also known as NAMI, are two student organizations on campus that promote the discussion and removal of stigma around mental health.

The Active Minds chapter is a safe place for students to openly talk about their mental health, said senior public relations major and Active Minds President Molly Mullen.

Mullen struggled with mental health throughout the start of her college career. As a senior in high school, she lost a close friend who died by suicide and looked to college as a fresh start with endless possibilities. However, she said the experience was not exactly what she had expected it to be. School was difficult and making new friends was not as easy as she thought.

Mullen started attending sessions at the counseling center during her freshman year. As a sophomore, Mullen roomed with Emily Haarmann, currently a senior elementary education major and the Active Minds’ vice president. The two discovered Active Minds together and both said the organization has completely changed their mindset about mental health.

“The counseling center helped, but it was just nice to have a student group, other kids who are experiencing it, not just me and a counselor,” Mullen said.

Haarmann transferred to Missouri State her sophomore year when she met Mullen and joined Active Minds.

“I think Active Minds has a direct correlation to my comfortableness with talking about my mental health with other people,” Haarmann said. “I’m super open with my family about it now. In the last three years, I’ve gained a lot of confidence with my mental health.”

The Active Minds chapter meets every other week in a variety of different places around campus. Students can stay updated on meeting times, locations and chapter activities by following @ActiveMSUMinds on Twitter and Instagram.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Organizations across the United States have been actively working to promote the discussion of mental health and reduce the stigma around it since 1949, according to Center for Discovery. Social media users are encouraged to use the hashtag #BreaktheStigma throughout the month to start conversations with family and friends about mental health.

On May 1, Missouri State hosted the second annual Impact Summit: College Student Mental Health Conference. The day-long conference included multiple keynote speakers and breakout sessions focused on topics related to college student mental health.

This year’s keynote speakers included Dr. Nance Roy, chief of Clinical Office of the Jed Foundation and assistant clinical professor at Yale, along with award-winning actor Sean Astin.

Students are encouraged to reach out to the Counseling Center with any mental health concerns.

The Counseling Center is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached at 417-836-5116. For after-hours mental health emergencies, students may call 417-836-5116 then press zero to speak with a crisis counselor. For more information about the counseling center, visit www.counselingcenter.missouristate.edu.