OPINION: It takes a village: Student mental health and well-being

Posted on Mar 25 2019 - 5:50am by Levi Bevis

Last Tuesday, March 19, Active Minds held its second exhibit of Send Silence Packing in the Grove. This eye-opening event commemorates college students across the nation who die by suicide each year, and it seeks to spark conversations about student mental health and well-being.

It is interesting that this event coincided with some personal experiences I had in navigating issues of student mental health that same week. Multiple friends shared their struggles with anxiety or depression or their concerns regarding how to help other friends. Unfortunately, students on our campus experiencing these struggles are not alone.

Across the nation, college students are experiencing increasing rates of anxiety and depression. A 2016 report from clinicians at Boston University states that approximately 16 percent of college students had been diagnosed or treated for anxiety. A 2018 survey from the American College Health Association found that approximately 3 out of every 5 college students had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” within the past year, and approximately 2 out of every 5 students reported experiencing depression so severe it affected their ability to function.

The phenomenon is not even unique to the U.S. A recent report from the World Health Organization found that approximately 35 percent of college freshmen from eight countries struggled with some sort of mental illness. These statistics illustrate that student mental health is a pressing issue for universities both in the U.S. and abroad.

With these numbers in mind, we each know and interact with people every day who struggle with some form of mental illness. What, then, can be done to help our peers or ourselves in navigating these challenges?

One of the most important things we can do is watch out for each other. The University of Mississippi fosters a uniquely close-knit community where most students know each other. We often greet each other with a “How are you?” that is usually met with a brief response of “I am fine.”

The next time we greet our friends and acquaintances, we should conscientiously ask, “How are you, really?” when greeted with the usual “I am fine” response. We need to take time to truly check in with our friends and listen to them. If they seem overwhelmed or distressed, invite them to lunch, schedule an activity with them so you can talk further or just be there to listen. Sometimes, a listening ear and a reassuring hug may be exactly what someone needs to keep moving forward.

Another key way to navigate these challenges: Be kind to others. Small gestures matter. Something as simple as complimenting someone on a quality you admire about them or offering to pay for the order of the person in line behind you lets others know that you value their presence.

Whatever you do, do it with kindness. As the Greek philosopher Plato once stated, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

It is also important to know that resources are available if you are struggling with depression or anxiety. The University Counseling Center is tremendously helpful both for those navigating an issue themselves and for those who may be helping others navigate issues.

By listening to others, being kind and being aware, we can all do our part to support each other through the challenges college life brings our way.

Levi Bevis is a senior public policy leadership major from Florence, Alabama.