Student stress, anxiety lead to increase of counseling services

MAKENZIE HUBER Managing Editor

Use of the South Dakota State Counseling Services far outpaces SDSU’s enrollment rate.

The Counseling Services growth rate is 91.7 times larger than the enrollment rate.

SDSU’s increase in mental health awareness exceeds surveys at the national level. This reveals the increasing prevalence of this issue at SDSU.

The national growth rate for increased mental health services on college campuses across the United States is five times larger than enrollment rates, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

Students using the Counseling Services at SDSU grew 27.5 percent between 2013 and 2015.

Now, university officials are finding ways to respond to this increase in mental health awareness. They have to do so while looking at why mental health awareness and mental illness are so prevalent among the SDSU student population.

“Increasing awareness doesn’t mean the problem is increasing,” said Darci Nichols, assistant Wellness Center director of Counseling Services. “It just means people are more comfortable identifying these issues and talking about them, which can give a perception it’s more prevalent when in fact it’s just more OK to discuss it.”

Nichols said she sees a correlation between these prominent issues and the amount of stress students face.

“As students are feeling more stress or under more stress … that’s going to lead to more presentation of symptoms and potential manifestations of mental illness,” Nichols said. “Because of the amount of stress students report experiencing, research shows college students are “under more stress than any other time in recent history.”

Most of this stress is caused by an unbalanced lifestyle, Nichols said. Eighty percent of students reported they are overwhelmed by their responsibilities, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Students are under pressure to succeed and be competitive in their classes. They also have to find balance between academics, sleep, a social life, recreation and more.

“In society, we don’t tend to subtract things in life, you know, we tend to add things to our life that becomes having to rebalance everything again,” Nichols said.

Tyler Youngquist, senior music education major, is still finding a balance between school, activities and other obligations.

“I think for me it’s an ongoing process and, you know, finding my limit and making sure I stay within that boundary,” Youngquist said.

Sophomore year was a learning experience for Youngquist. That’s when he realized he was overly involved and it had a negative impact on him. Since then, he’s been working to focus more on his top priorities, such as school, spending time with his friends and other parts of his life.

What’s most important to keeping students’ stress at a minimal level is being surrounded by other people, Youngquist said.

“I feel like a lot of mental health issues get worse when you’re doing something stressful, but you’re also doing it alone,” Youngquist said. “Just being able to plug in, get connected and let people help you with things.”

But stress isn’t just focused on balancing life. A serious problem at SDSU is for students to work through adjustment issues. This can include the transition stage for freshmen, adjusting to more rigorous course loads for sophomores and juniors and trying to maintain control of future plans for seniors.

Nationally, each grade level uses about a 20 percent chunk of counseling services offered on different campuses. At SDSU, freshmen take up more than 25 percent of counseling services.

Nichols expects the increasing trend of students using Counseling Services at SDSU to continue in coming years. She said the university will need to be ready to respond to this need.

The Wellness Center is in the process of expansion, which will give Counseling Services more resources and counselors to work with.

Even with the increase seen over the past few years, SDSU has had to respond by hiring more staff members. Nichols said this is a “direct result of need.”

“If we add a provider, we don’t ever have difficulty with filling a case load,” Nichols said.

Youngquist said he understands college is stressful, but it’s also important for students to know their limit.

“We’re doing something that requires a lot of money and a lot of effort and it’s hard,” Youngquist said. “And if you don’t find the right resources, that can be debilitatingly stressful sometimes.”