Layne Pierce said he understands the stresses of the university environment intimately.
“I’ve seen people breaking down over assignments,” said Pierce, a senior English teacher licensure student. “I’ve seen people just push themselves to the limit and freak out because they feel like they have to do this.”
The 21-year-old said he struggles with anxiety and depression like many students on campus, and while the university does not cause his mental health issues, it sometimes exacerbates them.
“I’ve watched people have panic attacks in front of me and not sleep for days,” Pierce said. “I’ve been guilty of that myself.”
Melissa Himelein, a professor of psychology and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said the ability of anxiety and depression to undermine students’ efforts are sometimes underestimated.
“Some don’t really understand the impacts that anxiety and depression can have on one’s entire ability to go about their day or function in everyday life,” Himelein said. “They aren’t thinking as well, they aren’t retaining information well, everything is slower and takes more time. Those are all qualities that are not helpful when it comes to schoolwork.”
Gabriella Livanos, a senior philosophy and psychology student, said she tries to address student mental health issues through her work as an intern with Peers Educating Peers and Advancing Health, a peer mentoring program created by UNCA’s Health and Counseling Center. PEPAH attempts to reach students through their peers.
“We’re all students on this college campus,” Livanos said. “PEPAH really wants to give students the tools available to them and make them aware of their resources, so they can make well-informed decisions about their health.”
Himelein said organizations like PEPAH can reach out to students who may not know where to get help.
“Sometimes first-year students aren’t aware of the service the Health and Counseling Center provides,” Himelein said. “They might have missed it in orientation, or they might be fearful that it’s going to cost money that they don’t have.”
Livanos said being visible and available on campus are concerns of both PEPAH and the Health and Counseling Center.
“One of the ways that health and counseling and PEPAH really combat the issue of people not wanting to come forward is by putting on tabling events,” Livanos said. “You’ll see actual counselors who students actually see around Ramsey Library and Brown Hall, doing everything from giving out hot chocolate to giving out Play-Doh.”
The Health and Counseling Center constitutes one of many resources for students on campus. Himelein said she advocates for students approaching faculty members when they experience issues with their mental health, so they do not have to make decisions alone.
“I think that students can get so fixated on the goal, thinking ‘I can’t drop a class, I can’t do that, my parents would kill me,’” Himelein said. “I think it’s really important for students when they’re in the throes of a serious anxiety period to meet with an academic adviser and get their help in trying to wrestle through decision making.”
Pierce said approaching faculty about his anxiety gave him mixed results, but positive faculty responses can be incredibly helpful when dealing with anxiety, especially in the moment.
“I had a professor, Dr. Anne Jansen, where I had a panic attack in the middle of her test because I couldn’t think of any of the answers,” Pierce said. “She took me aside, said to relax, take a seat, take a few deep breaths and try to finish it and we’ll see how it goes. That was probably one of the best responses I’ve ever had to my anxiety. It wound up calming me down a lot and I passed the test.”