Ohlone, other colleges see rise in stress, depression
May 1, 2015
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Jenn Shue had just graduated high school, and was struggling with health issues and a host of new pressures. She was moody, often cried and was prone to panic attacks. It all became too much for her.
“The sad truth is if it hadn’t been for Sally (Bratton, Ohlone’s Student Health Center director) and her team I wouldn’t be here today, I would have given up,” Shue said.
Shue is one of a growing number of students at Ohlone and colleges around the country who are dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
A third of college students nationwide had difficulty functioning due to depression, and almost half of the students experienced overwhelming anxiety, according to the 2013 National College Health Assessment – a survey that examined more than 125,000 students from about 150 colleges and universities.
At Ohlone, 61 percent of students had “some” or “a lot” of trouble with depression in the previous week, and 70 percent had trouble with anxiety, according to STEP up Ohlone.
According to a 2011 Ohlone College National Assessment data survey, 3 percent of Ohlone students attempted suicide in the past 12 months. With 10,270 students admitted in Fall 2014, however, that 3 percent would indicate about 308 students had attempted suicide.
Categories of mental illness include anxiety disorders, behavioral disorders, eating disorders, substance-use disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders and suicidal behavior.
“Mental health encompasses our emotional well-being,” said Rosemary O’Neill, a life coach and mental health counselor at the Ohlone Student Health Center.
“If we are depressed or if we are anxious, if we had a traumatic event in our life and are suffering from some post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. … It’s about the state of our emotional well-being.”
Anxiety disorders are among the most common. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder are all types of anxiety disorders.
Behavioral disorders tend to happen with children who have shown a pattern of disruptive behavior at home, school and other settings for at least six months. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a common type of behavioral disorder.
Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, binge eating and bulimia.
Substance-abuse disorder is when illegal drugs cause a person to experience a mental health problem, or when people use alcohol, drugs or substances to self-medicate. This disorder usually involves people who suffer with depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders.
Mood disorders, also common, include depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder and self-harm.
Personality disorders include antisocial personality and borderline personality disorder.
Schizophrenia is a type of psychotic disorder, and people experience hallucinations and delusions. Suicidal behavior is another common form of mental illness.
“Of students that I see, I see all of those symptoms,” O’Neill said. “Students come to me if they’re depressed, and they’re depressed for a million different reasons. Breakup of a relationship is very significant; it causes a lot of pain and hurt. Family complications or family communication problems. The death of a family member, perhaps, or a loved one. Sometimes economic crisis in the family impacts students’ mental health. Students come to me for a variety of reasons.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for all ages, and 38,000 Americans die every year because of it.
Monitor photo editor Laura Gonsalves lost her nephew Julian Gutierrez to suicide in 2011.
Gutierrez, who died a week before his 15th birthday, came from a large, close-knit family in Union City.
“We were shocked and in disbelief,” Gonsalves said about how she and her 200 family members felt following the death. “After that year, we still haven’t taken a family photo since.”
“For him to commit suicide – it just didn’t make sense. No one has ever committed suicide in our huge, extended family.”
One of the tougher obstacles for Gonsalves and her family was trying to discover why he did what he did. “To this day, we don’t know why,” she added.
Gonsalves was at Ohlone at the time of the death and decided to drop most of her classes.
“My heart wasn’t in school anymore,” she said. “I was depressed and had sensitive reminders (about Julian).”
Grieving, counseling and talking to others helped Gonsalves cope with the depression. She also sought help with O’Neill at the health center, but to this day she hasn’t completely gotten over the death and said she never will.
“You just learn to deal with it – cope with it better,” she said. “It doesn’t occupy most of my time anymore.”
For many college students, the college grind is overwhelming and sometimes leads to mental health problems.
“I’m a student, I carry two jobs, I’m a tutor and I’m preparing to transfer in the fall,” Shue said. “Saying I have a lot on my plate is the understatement of the year.”
“Right after graduation I was picked up by a school to play sports and I was over the moon,” Shue said. “After moving out of my home with my family and into the apartment with the roommate from hell, things went downhill. … I had a hard time juggling my studies, practices and trying to take care of myself like the adult I thought I was.”
On top of her school struggles, Shue also had minor symptoms of IBS which intensified, and she became moody, often cried and was prone to panic attacks.
“The final straw was when I had to move back home,” she said. “I lost my license so I wouldn’t drive and I wouldn’t leave the house unless for school or family functions, because I was terrified.”
“I stopped even caring about my appearance. I figured if I wasn’t going anywhere, why get ready for the day. It was just a horrible time for me and I had no way of understanding what was happening or how to deal with it.”
Still, Shue sought help at the Ohlone Student Health Center and was able to piece her life back together.
“I have learned to open up to others. I’m not ashamed of my IBS, anxiety or depression, I have really learned to accept myself and understand that I can get through anything now,” she said.
Ohlone student Khalil Iqbal, who has been counseled by O’Neill, said raising awareness about mental health is key. He had a friend who delayed therapy for more than a year because she was afraid of how it would be perceived.
“Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma surrounding mental health,” he said. “People use words like ‘crazy’ when talking about those who seek help for mental health issues.”
O’Neill concurred, saying people think there’s something wrong with getting sad or depressed.
“We like to think we shouldn’t talk about our problems outside of the family,” she said.
Society focuses on health from a “superficial physical perspective,” Iqbal said.
“If you take care of the body and neglect other parts of health then you are not taking a holistic approach to self-care,” he said. “A holistic approach is much-needed when dealing with the stressors of everyday life.”
The more families and children are educated about mental health, the more it will help people become comfortable communicating with others when they have mental health problems, O’Neill said.
“There’s more awareness now,” she said. “When I reach out to someone, they’re going reach out to someone and my goal and my hope is that it becomes more and more OK to get help.”
Staff writers Martha Nunez and Maria Garcia-Hernandez contributed to this report.