UNC Asheville’s new communal approach to stress and depression opens alternative avenues of conversation and support for students and staff.
The 2015 National Survey of Student Engagement reported UNCA as scoring higher than other participating schools in the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges in support services and organizations that create a positive community for students, faculty and staff.
“In our culture it’s accepted, if not expected, to be stressed and to be busy,” said Laura Jones, an assistant health and wellness professor who specializes in counseling and counselor education with an emphasis in public health.
“The goal is not to get rid of stress altogether, but to recognize how it benefits us and then to learn to regulate it,” Jones said.
Negative stressors affect a student’s brain, heart, skin, intestinal tract and have especially deleterious effects to sleep schedules, Jones said.
“We’re seeing depression a lot more now because we’re becoming more aware of it,” Jones said.
According to the American College Health Association’s 2015 National College Health Assessment report, 21.5 percent of students in the last 12 months have experienced stress that lowered an exam grade.
“Students are all juggling a lot,” Jones said. “I’m not sure that the question necessarily should be whether they’re too busy or not, but how are we supporting our students to help manage what they are juggling?”
One way to alleviate stress is through self-care, Jones said.
“Self-care is about being present in your life in a way that’s not chaotic,” Jones said. “In a sense it’s finding a rhythm and trusting yourself in that.”
It’s finding a way to reground, resettle and calm your system. It can be on a sunny day walking outside just feeling the sun on your skin. It’s all a sense of mindfulness, Jones said.
Active Minds works in tandem with the UNCA Health and Counseling Center, providing suicide talk lines and teaching students how to approach friends displaying symptoms of depression, 21-year-old Gabby Feinstein said.
Feinstein, student president of UNCA’s chapter of Active Minds, takes 15 credit hours and works several positions dealing with health on campus and in the community.
“Mental health is definitely a subject that resonates with everyone, especially with college students,” Feinstein said.
According to the American College Health Association’s 2015 National College Health Assessment report, 28 percent of students felt overwhelming anxiety in the last two weeks.
“When I was presenting at the undergraduate research symposium my sophomore year, people were coming up to me and were so open about sharing their experiences with me,” Feinstein said. “It’s a great mindset to have for an organization like Active Minds on campus.”
Feinstein said Active Minds battles the stigma surrounding mental health issues on campus.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ “College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health,” cites stigma as the main barrier to students accessing mental health services.
“I think this is a nice little safe haven where we can share those experiences and combat them as a community,” Feinstein said.
According to the 2015 National Survey of Student Engagement, 72 percent of participating seniors said UNCA places great emphasis on the support for overall well-being of students.
“The RAs try their best to make it clear that they are a resource there if you need anything,” said Katie McDonald, interim community director of Overlook Hall and UNCA alumna.
More residents than you’d think are comfortable going to their RAs with mental health issues, but less than you would hope, McDonald said.
It’s important for students to know the pervasiveness of mental illness on campus, as well as how to support friends, according to The National Alliance on Mental Health.
“Part of it is reaching out and using the resources,” Jones said. “We as a community have a communal obligation to help support one another.”