Mental Health Q and A

By Grace Merritt | 4 minutes to read

Is your college student struggling with a mental health issue?

Turn to UConn’s student health experts.

Mental health is a serious issue facing many college students across the country. According to the American Psychological Association, more than one-third of first-year college students is impacted. We take a look at how UConn is responding to this.

Suzanne A. Onorato, executive director of Student Health Services and Betsy Cracco, director of Counseling and Mental Health Services, answer key questions about the University’s services and workshops.

Q. The “Washington Post” reports that more than one in three college freshmen around the world shows signs of mental health disorders. How is UConn addressing this?

A. Our strategy is to address mental health at every opportunity, whether students contact UConn’s Medical Services, the Wellness and Prevention office, or Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS).

We’ve added crisis and management services to more effectively work with students with more acute and significant mental health crises and have a Suicide Prevention Team that collaborates with more than 25 offices across campus to spread information about services and resources. Last year, they trained more than 1,000 students, staff, and faculty members in a new suicide prevention curriculum focused on recognizing and responding to warning signs of a mental health crisis.

We’re also invested in reaching students before a crisis. We’ve expanded outreach programming and offer workshops, campus-wide events, keynote speakers, passive programming campaigns, weekly yoga and meditation, and story-telling workshops. All focus on helping students develop life-long strategies and tools for coping with life’s more challenging times.

Q. What is the most commonly reported mental health problem you see among UConn students?

A. Anxiety. Most often, students initially report academics as a major source of stress, but upon further exploration, we often find that social anxiety is a major contributor. College is a stressful time, and in some ways is designed to test students and to help them grow. Our challenge is to help students develop perspective and resilience to meet challenges, but also to know when they need to reach out for help.

Q. What is Student Health Services’ approach to helping students through difficult times?

A. Students, like all of us, are significantly comforted by the opportunity to share their concerns with another caring person. This might be when they have a sore throat and are visiting with a physician in the Student Health Services center, or when they visit Wellness and Prevention to hang out with the therapy dogs.

We have a range of services to address the various difficulties students face, such as enrolling them in a skills-based workshop focused on mindfulness and coping strategies or working with them and their family to develop an intensive collaborative treatment plan with outside providers. It is important to normalize their experience and let them know they are not alone.

Q. What can parents do to help ensure their child’s mental health and well-being?

A. Parents are critical partners in the student’s safety net. Students on average have more than 2.5 contacts per day with parents. Most parents can expect what we call the “freak out” phone call that is some combination of social and academic anxiety. Those “I’m-failing-and-I-have-no-friends” phone calls. It is helpful if parents listen supportively and understand that this is the normal college experience.

Parents can also tune into signs of what we call functional impairment, asking if they are able to do basic tasks of college life, such as getting to class, making social connections, and basic care. A radical change in functioning or behavior can be a warning sign.

Q. What should parents do if they become concerned about their child being suicidal or having other issues? Are there key words or actions they should watch for?

A. If parents become concerned, they should not hesitate to consult our professionals at Counseling and Mental Health Services by calling (860) 486-4705. Statements about safety, ending one’s life, or other indicators of hopelessness should all be taken seriously. Any direct statement about safety, and intention to harm oneself or another should be responded to immediately by calling CMHS at (860) 486-4705 or Campus Police at (860) 486-4800.

Parents can also check out “Ask Listen Refer,” a 20-minute training that helps parents identify warning signs of mental health crises and provides resource information.

Q. What should parents ask their child when they come back from break and/or during the school year?

A. Parents can ask open-ended questions about how their student is feeling, what they are excited about, and what is hard for them. This is often a stage of life when students begin to understand that their parents were once young and may have some experience with the challenges of young adulthood. The judicious sharing of one’s own struggles, without burdening the student with too much detail, may be helpful. Students may be offering one-word answers, but they are listening and figuring it out. Let them know you are there for them no matter what.

Q. What other types of services does your group offer?

A. Students who have brief concerns and just want to speak to someone same day can use Drop-In Consultation Services on a walk-in basis. We recently introduced a single-session, therapy service to provide targeted coaching and ready access to work with professional staff on a specific problem.

We also offer all the other traditional forms of therapy and treatment, including individual brief psychotherapy, group therapy, medication assessment and management, and crisis services.

Q. What can students do to relieve stress in a positive way?

A. We recommend that students take a mind/body approach to relieving stress, such as taking yoga and meditation classes, and mindfulness-based stress reduction workshops.

Q. Is there a website parents and students can visit and or phone number to call for more information?

A. For Counseling and Mental Health Services, find more information at www.counseling.uconn.edu or (860) 486-4705. Find Wellness and Prevention programs at https://wellness.uconn.edu/ or (860) 486-9431, and Student Health Services info at https://shs.uconn.edu/ or (860) 486-4700.

Support student mental health services at UConn

Gifts to the Meredith Beck Mental Health Information and Support Fund provide financial support for programmatic enhancements at University’s Division of Student Affairs’ Counseling & Mental Health Services office.

This article offers health information and is designed for educational purposes only. Consult your physician or other health care professional for medical advice.

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