Special to Mustang Daily
The Counseling Center on campus is conducting a survey to see the state of mental health of students on campus, Health and Counseling Services Director Martin Bragg said. The survey is used to help the Counseling Center identify mental health issues that need to be focused on.
The survey, called the Healthy Minds Survey, is part of a national survey put on by Penn State University, Bragg said. The survey serves as a way for the Counseling Center to create programs to help students struggling with mental health.
“It’s a very thorough study and it gives us a pretty good snapshot, I think, of students’ mental health on campus,” Bragg said. “We find it really useful in talking to students, faculty and staff about the issues of stress on college students, so it really has multiple uses.”
The Counseling Center uses the results of the survey in a variety of ways. It will use the information to identify specific areas that are problematic and increase programming to help decrease issues in these areas, Bragg said.
The study was first conducted on the Cal Poly campus in 2010, Bragg said. The results showed that the two most common mental health issues Cal Poly students suffer from were mood disorders and anxiety disorders.
Some 9 percent of Cal Poly students reported suffering from mood disorders, such as depression, and 7 percent of students reported suffering from anxiety disorders, such as having panic attacks, the 2010 Healthy Minds Survey statistics showed.
“The survey went out to 4,000 students and we expect to get 1,400 to 1,500 responses back,” Bragg said. “It asks a series of questions about how they like Poly and how college is going, but then it also asks questions like, in the past year, how much they’ve experienced depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide.”
An example question on the survey would be something such as, “In the last 30 days, have you taken a prescription medication without a prescription?” Bragg said.
Prescription medication can play a part in depression, Bragg said. For example, Adderall or Ritalin, which are medications used for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are stimulants and work differently in people with ADHD than they do with people who don’t have it.
“If somebody without ADHD takes this, it basically might energize them to the point that they are having a panic attack. It could disrupt their sleep or give them irregular heartbeat,” Bragg said. “So that’s one of the reasons we use a survey like this to get a notion of how big a problem that is.”
The Counseling Center takes the information from the survey and uses it to designate specific areas to focus in on programs that help students with mental health issues, Bragg said.
“If we were to see an increase in use of Adderall without a prescription, then we would increase the amount of programming we would do about the dangers of that,” Bragg said.
The programming that the Counseling Center would do to help these problematic areas would include making posters and taking out ads, Bragg said. Peer health would do programming in terms of doing events to help increase awareness of these issues.
Coming to college, new stressors that weren’t apparent in high school can make students more susceptible to these mental illnesses, psychology sophomore Cheyenne Sommo said.
“For me, I find that when I’m feeling most vulnerable to things like anxiety is when I’m stressed,” Sommo said. “During finals week or midterms, school just really stresses me out and I didn’t feel that pressure in high school, or at least not as strongly as I do now.”
Mental illness can have a negative stereotype attached to it on the Cal Poly campus, graduate student Katelyn O’Brien, who works at the Counseling and Guidance program, said.
“I think people with mental illness are still perceived as very threatening and very dangerous,” O’Brien said. “I think there is a large stereotype and it’s largely due to the way media portrays mental illness.”
In the media, stories of mental health are highlighted and intensified, and it is never in a positive light, O’Brien said.
“The age in which people are most susceptible to the majority of mental illness is 18-24, which is a traditional college-aged student,” O’Brien said. “With the workload of college and the expectation put on college students, I think it triggers a lot of mental health disorders.”
By making our community more aware of the issues of mental health rather than making judgments we can make the stereotype of mental health more positive, O’Brien said.
Students can go to many places on campus to find confidential help, O’Brien said. The Health and Counseling Services on campus has a section run by students, including PULSE and other peer-run groups whose focus is to bring awareness and bring attention to matters that influence students.
“Fortunately, I think they brought in one or two more psychologists here at Cal Poly and I know that we also have a psychiatrist as well,” O’Brien said. “So you are going to get those needs met here where a lot of colleges don’t have psychologists.”
The results of the Healthy Minds Survey are going to show students who are struggling with mental health or even just getting out of bed in the morning, that they are not the only students having trouble, Bragg said.
“There is a feeling that somehow they are the only ones that are like this,” Bragg said. “But these kinds of problems are serious for a lot of students.”
Kristina Martin contributed to this article.