Faculty Spotlight: Mental Health Stigma

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Mental health problems affect many college students. According to a national survey, 27% of students reported they experience depression, 24% experience bipolar disorder, 11% experience anxiety, and 12% experience other mental health problems, including eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.

Stigma refers to the negative attitudes and misperceptions about people with mental health conditions. It can lead to stereotypes, like “people with mental illness are dangerous and unpredictable.” Some students may encounter stigma against mental health from their family, friends, and community. Others may experience self-stigma, meaning that they internalize the stigma against mental illness that is prevalent in society. Self-stigma leads to lower self-esteem, lower self-efficacy, and hopelessness.

Stigma is a significant barrier to seeking treatment among college students. In fact, 36% of students with mental health problems noted that stigma stops them from seeking help. Mental health stigma also differentially impacts students from different racial backgrounds. Research shows that stigma predicts less help seeking for mental health problems most strongly among Arabic and Asian American students, followed by African American and mixed race students.

One of the best ways to combat stigma is to be informed. Here’s what faculty and staff can do to combat the stigma against mental illness:

  • Know the common warning signs of mental illness
  • Be proactive in connecting students to resources and encouraging students to seek help
    • 22% of students say they learn about mental health resources from faculty or staff
  • Reach out to students to voice your concerns
    • Try saying “I’ve noticed that you’re [late to class more, look more fatigued]. Is everything ok?”
    • “I’ve noticed you aren’t acting like yourself. Is something going on?”
  • Know that mental health conditions are real and as serious as physical health issues
  • Understand the students with mental health problems are able to be successful in school




Abusive Relationships

Abusive relationships and dating violence are a widespread problem on college campuses. 43% of college women report experiencing violent or abusive dating behavior, and 52% report knowing a friend who experienced violent or abusive dating behaviors. An abusive relationship is a pattern of behaviors used to maintain power and control over a partner. It can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical. Often threats, isolation, and intimidation are used. Technology is another major method that abusers can use to abuse or harass their partner. This can include:

  • Monitoring their partner’s email communication
  • Sending repeated emails or texts
  • Using social networking sites to get information about their partner and to monitor their partner’s messages and friendships
  • Using GPS devices to monitor their partner’s location

Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless or gender, age, sexual orientation, race, or economic background. It’s important to know the warning signs:

  • Checking your cellphone or email without permission
  • Constantly putting you down
  • Extreme jealousy, insecurity, or possessiveness
  • Explosive temper or mood swings
  • Isolating you from family or friends
  • Making false accusations
  • Telling you what to do or pressuring you to have sex

People stay in abusive relationships for many different reasons. Some people experience conflicting emotions about abuse, including fear, embarrassment, and love. There may also be social or cultural pressures that influence people to stay in abusive relationships. Others may rely on their abusive partner for financial support or feel helpless in their situation.

There are things that you can do to help support a friend who is in an abusive relationship:

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend who you are worried about. Help your friend recognize that abuse is not normal and is not their fault
  • Be supportive and listen without judging
  • Physical safety is a big priority – tell your friend if you’re worried about their physical safety and help them develop a plan for what to do
  • Make sure your friend knows they are not alone
  • Help your friend locate resources

If you are worried about your own or a friend’s imminent safety, call Safety and Security (206-281-2911) or tell your Resident Life Coordinator. If you are struggling in an abusive relationship, know that you are not alone and that there are resources that can help. These resources may help you receive anonymous support, and if you feel safe doing so, make an appointment with the Student Counseling Center.



Keeping in Touch with Family and Friends

For many college students, starting college meant moving away from home. Some may have moved across the country, while others may have family and friends nearby. In either case, a lot of college students report that their relationships with family and friends shift somewhat after starting college. Some students say they feel anxiety about being “out of touch” or disconnected with their family and friends back home. Friends and family may also put pressure on you to keep in touch or show disappointment if you don’t call enough. The tension and balance between being present at college and keeping in touch with your family and friends back home can be a major source of relationship stress.

While it can feel lonely or scary to go through these relationship changes, it is a normal part of your development as a person. You are learning to be more independent, make new relationships, and become your own person. As you become more immersed in your college experience, you can decide how much contact feels right for you to have with your family and friends back home. Some may decide that calling home once every other week is enough for them, while others may communicate with far away family and friends on a daily basis.

If you do decide you want to stay in touch with family and friends, one of the biggest factors is making an effort to do so. Staying in contact with friends and family does not have to be a huge time commitment, especially in our age of social media. Texting, commenting on photos or posts, or sending Snaps can go a long way to maintaining relationships. Here are some other ways that you can keep in touch:

  • Send actual mail – receiving a letter, package, or postcard can feel like a treat!
  • Visit them or have them visit you
  • Teach your parents how to use social media – this may feel awkward at first, but it can help you stay connected without having to spend hours on the phone
  • Make time for both family and friends when you visit home

However much contact you decide to have with family and friends back home, do what makes sense for you. Trying to stay connected on a daily basis can work for some students, but create additional stress for others. If your family or friends are wanting more contact than is right for you, try setting boundaries about how much contact should be expected, and honor your commitments. This can help all parties involved feel a sense of ease because they know when or how often they will receive a call.

Talking to Professors

As students, we see professors nearly every day. Many students feel nervous and anxious about talking with professors or attending office hours. Having positive relationships with your professors can be quite beneficial. Students with positive relationships with their professors often have higher academic achievement and feel more connected to the school’s community. Furthermore, there may come a time when you need a letter of recommendation from your professor - having a positive relationship with them will help them write a strong letter for you.

So how do we get past the nervousness and talk to our professors? Here are some steps that can help you get started:

  1. Visit your professor during their office hours or make an appointment
  2. Use respectful communication, and honor relationship boundaries – you may become informal and friendly with your professors as you get to know them, but remember that it is a professional relationship
  3. Be prepared when you arrive
    1. If you have questions about the course material, try writing down your questions, so you’ll be sure to remember them.
    2. If you are having problems personally, academically, or otherwise, be honest with your professor. Your professor may be able to have some flexibility with you or be able to help you access resources.
    3. If you are going to dispute a grade, don’t make excuses, but come prepared to offer other solutions, like doing extra work, asking for help with the course material, or re-doing the assignment. Your professor may say “no,” but your commitment to learning may make a favorable impression on them, and you may end up getting some extra help.
    4. If you are looking for advice about how to exceed in a particular field, ask your professor with tips about how to do so.
  4. Your professors are regular people too, with interests, hobbies, and families. Ask your professor how they got interested in their field or to talk to you about their research.

And remember, many professors actually like talking with students and helping students enhance their learning. Check out more tips about talking to your professor here. Having a plan before you talk with your professor can ease some of the anxiety ahead of time, and the more you talk with your professors, the more comfortable you will become!

Dealing with Roommate Conflict

This month’s focus is on common relationship problems that college students face. Relationship problems can have rippling effects in our lives, including increasing stress and impacting our academics. One of the most common types of relationship problems among college students is roommate conflict. About one-third of students report having problems with their roommates.

For some students, college is the first time you’ve had to share space with others, and for other students, they may have had plenty of experience sharing rooms before. Regardless of your situation, there are some common roommate conflicts the most people experience:

  • Cleanliness: some people like to keep their space cleaner, and others prefer a messier living environment
  • Noise: some students like to listen to music, talk on the phone, or watch TV when they are in their room, while other students might prefer to relax in peace and quiet
  • Guests: some people like to have their room or home be private sanctuary where they can be with few people and distractions, and other people really enjoy having friends around a lot of the time

Many roommate conflicts come about because of differences in how students want to live in their space. Some problems can also arise through conflicts between you and your roommate’s values or personalities. These problems can start right at the beginning of the year, or they can come up or worsen over the course of the year.

A lot of roommate conflicts can be solved with respectful communication. Communicating effectively has many facets, including:

  • Talking directly with your roommate about your needs and feelings, and learning about what they need and feel
  • Agreeing on and setting expectations for shared space, including cleanliness, noise level, and having friends over
  • Setting boundaries to make it clear what is and is not okay in the roommate relationship (can they eat your food? share your shampoo?)
  • Dealing with conflict by setting up a time to talk to your roommate, using “I” statements and respectful language to express your feelings, focusing on one problem at a time, and being willing to compromise

Find more tips on effective communication here. If you have a larger roommate conflict that you need additional help with, try talking with your RA about it.


Faculty Spotlight: Relationship Problems

College is a time when students are having to balance and maintain many different relationships at once, with roommates, family, romantic partners, friends, and with faculty and staff. Relationship problems among college students are relatively common, and about one-third of college students report having problems in their roommate and romantic relationships. Relationship problems can also interfere with students’ academic success, making them important to address.

There are many different types of problems that students can have in relationships. Some may have verbal arguments or physical fights with others, some may have trouble trusting others, some may have difficulty communicating with others, and some may even be in abusive relationships. Common themes that come up among roommate conflicts are cleanliness, noise levels, or having friends over. These problems along with many problems that students may face in their friendships can be solved through talking with their resident advisor or a trusted third-party or learning some effective communication skills.

Some students have difficulty communicating with their friends, family members, or professors. While some students who have difficulty with communication can benefit from some simple communication skills, others may have larger problems with social communication that lead to significant impairment in relationships. Common signs of students with social communication problems or deficits include:

  • Language or communication: using very literal language, difficulty modulating the volume of their voice, difficulty understanding jokes, metaphors, idioms, or other subtleties of language
  • Social interaction: difficulty making eye contact, difficulty making friends, difficulty initiating, maintaining, or ending a conversation, difficulty understanding social norms, difficulty understanding other’s emotions
  • Behavior: interrupts others, becomes tangential in answering questions, strong reactions to sensory cues (lights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch), may engage in self-soothing behavior, like rocking or tapping, and fixation on certain concepts, objects, or patterns.

As faculty and staff, you can support students with social communication deficits by meeting with the student privately if behavioral issues are disrupting the classroom. Work with the student to solve these problems in order to help the student succeed. If the student has classroom accommodations, make sure to respect them and talk with the student to make sure you are both on the same page.

Other students may be in abusive relationships. Abusive relationships may take many forms and can include verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse. Some common signs that a student may be in an abusive relationship, include: excessive lateness or unexplained absences, frequent illnesses, unexplained injuries or bruising, changes in appearance, being distracted during class, drops in productivity, and being sensitive about discussing their relationships. If you are concerned about a student who may be in an abusive relationship, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Meet with the student in private
  • Recognize that the student may be fearful or vulnerable
  • Remember that abusive relationships involve complex dynamics, including high levels of denial and may be difficult to change
  • Refer the student to the counseling center
  • Encourage the student to connect with people they trust

There are also some things to avoid when talking with students who are in abusive relationships. Try to avoid downplaying the situation, lecturing the student about poor judgment, or expecting the student to make quick changes.

Relationship problems for college students exist along an entire spectrum, and there are many different reasons that students could be having difficulty with others. As faculty and staff the biggest thing that you can do is meet with students privately, in order to understand what is going on and offer support.

Binge Eating

Binge eating is when someone eats an excessive amount of food and feels out of control while doing so. Binge eating is common among college students, and many students report that they binge eat to cope with stress or other negative emotions. Eating, generally speaking, is a pleasurable experience because it causes dopamine to be released in the reward pathway of the brain, in a similar way that drugs act on the brain, but on a much smaller scale.

Even though food can help us feel better, binge eating is an unhealthy coping skill. It is considered an unhealthy skill because in the long run it can lead to negative emotions like shame or depression, psychological problems, like an eating disorder or another mental disorder, or to physical problems, including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, or other gastrointestinal problems. Research also indicates that people who lack more adaptive emotion regulation skills are at greater risk for using binge eating as a coping skill.

Some signs of students who are struggling with binge eating, include:

  • Eating in secret
  • Hiding food
  • Continuously eating or “grazing” without feeling satisfied
  • Feeling many negative emotions after eating large amounts of food
  • Feeling out of control when eating

Lots of college students struggle with using unhealthy coping skills when they are feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or other negative emotions. Binge eating, along with binge drinking, self-harm, avoidance and withdrawal, or physical aggression, are all considered unhealthy or unhelpful coping strategies because they may help you feel better in the moment, but in the long run they lead to even greater problems or physical harm. If you are worried about yourself or a friend who is struggling with any of these problems, its ok to ask for help. Talk to your RA, or consider scheduling an appointment at the Student Counseling Center.



Binge Drinking: A Way to Have Fun or an Unhealthy Coping Skill?

Happy Spring Break! After finishing a tough quarter, many of us are feeling the urge to relax this spring break. Some of us may be going home or visiting with friends we haven’t seen lately. Others may be celebrating passing classes and finishing finals. Binge drinking is one way that many students say they relax and have fun on spring break. In fact, up to 44% of female and 75% of male college students report that they binge drink. Binge drinking is defined as excessive drinking over a short period of time, and its often referred to as “drinking to get drunk.”

Students report that they binge drink for a lot of different reasons: to have fun, to unwind or de-stress, to deal with loneliness or the transition to college, to fit in, or to get rid of social anxiety and feel confident. Recent research indicates that often, binge drinking is used as a form of unhealthy emotion regulation, or a way to get rid of negative feelings.  Binge drinking is considered an unhealthy strategy because it doesn’t change or get rid of the underlying situation that caused the negative feelings in the first place, and it can cause harm to your body and make you feel sick. Binge drinking has been shown to be related to unintentional injury, assault, increased risk for suicide, and alcohol-related health problems.

Spring break is a time to relax, take a break, and connect with family and friends, so skip the hangover and try one of these activities instead:

  • Volunteer in your community or church
  • Go for a hike with friends
  • Check out a new park
  • Take a class that’s always interested you (cooking, photography, yoga, anything!)
  • Plan a stay-cation and be a tourist in the city
  • Treat yourself to a massage

If alcohol will be involved in your spring break plans, make sure you are making the best choices for yourself and drinking safely. Drink lots of water, plan how much you want to drink before going out (use this BAC calculator to help!), make sure you have a safe way to get home, and count your drinks accurately.

If you are worried that your drinking is getting out of control or you are using alcohol to cope, its okay to ask for help. The Student Counseling Center has a number of great resources. If you are worried about a friend who may be struggling with drinking, consider reaching out to them and offering support.



Regulating Emotions during Finals Week

College students face a lot of different stressors throughout the year, but finals week can be even more stressful than other weeks. Feeling worn out at the end of the quarter and still needing to perform well on final exams and papers is a lot to deal with! During increased times of stress, we are more likely to experience negative emotions and may be more likely to turn to maladaptive emotion regulation strategies. We are also more likely to neglect our own self-care.

Even though time is particularly tight during finals week, there are some adaptive emotional regulation strategies that we can try to incorporate into our routines. Using some of these pre-emptive coping skills may even help us head off some of the secondary stress associated with maladaptive strategies like not getting enough sleep or eating too much junk food. Here are some ideas:

  1. Get enough sleep. It can seem like there isn’t enough time to get your normal amount of sleep, but experts recommend getting at least 7 hours. When you get less sleep, its hard to focus and be productive, which may lead to assignments or studying taking longer than usual. Skipping sleep may not save you any time in the long run.
  2. Avoid alcohol and drugs. These may help you feel better in the moment, but they impact your functioning and performance in the following days. Alcohol and drug use can interfere with your normal sleep pattern and impact your mental abilities.
  3. Eat nutritious food. Eating nutrient rich food will provide your body with the nourishment and energy it needs. Many students eat more foods that are high in sugar during finals week, which may give you a temporary boost in energy, but will eventually lead to a “sugar crash.” If you have a sweet tooth, fresh fruit is a great option!
  4. Be active. Even if you don’t have much time to spend on an intensive workout routine, even a 10-15 minute walk can help improve mood and makes your body feel better. It also gives you a break from your studies.
  5. Unplug from social media. College students often report spending a lot of time procrastinating by scrolling through their social media sites or watching cute animal videos. Sometimes these things can offer you a break from studying, but if you notice that you are spending too much time on your social media, consider unplugging, disconnecting WiFi and data, or uninstalling apps during finals week. You can always reinstall them next week!
  6. Talk with friends and family. Reaching out to supportive people in your life is a great way to reduce stress and feel better!

Make sure during finals week that you also take some time for self-care. It doesn’t have to be anything too long or extensive, but it will help you feel better despite all of the finals stress. Check-out the self-care wheel for more ideas!

Self-Injury: Fact vs. Myth

Last week, the international community recognized Self-Injury Awareness Day. Self-injury is very common among college students, and approximately 17-35% of college students report self-injuring. Self-injury is the direct and deliberate act of harming one’s own body, with or without the intention of suicide. There can be many different reasons for why someone self-injures, but many times it serves as an emotion regulation strategy, or a coping skill.

Unfortunately, self-injury is an unhealthy method of emotion regulation. It’s an unhealthy strategy because it could lead to negative physical and emotional outcomes. Self-injury can lead to scarring, injury, and in some cases accidental death. Many people who self-injure also fell worse in the long run, and may experience feelings of guilt, shame, or depression.

Although self-injury is very common, there are still many misconceptions about self-injury:

  • Myth: If you self-injure, you are suicidal.
    • Fact: Many people who self-injure, do it to cope with stress and feel better, not to attempt suicide. However, research also shows that self-injury can increase risk for suicide, if a person does become suicidal.
  • Myth: If you self-injure, you are mentally ill.
    • Fact: Some students who self-injure may also be struggling with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. However, there are many people who self-injure who do not have a diagnosable metal illness.
  • Myth: Only women or alternative students self-injure.
    • Fact: There is no one type of person who self-injures. Students who are high achieving to those who struggle in school may engage in self-injury. Furthermore, research suggests that men are just as likely as women to self-injure.
  • Myth: People who self-injure are manipulative and are looking for attention.
    • Fact: Many students who self-injure do it in private, and may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their injury, leading them to hide their self-injurious behavior. Others may harm themselves in hopes of communicating their need for help, not to manipulate others.

Because self-injury often serves as an emotion regulation strategy there are many alternatives skills that can be used instead of harming yourself. Some people find that letting out their energy physically, like hitting a pillow or squeezing ice in their hand, helps them feel better. Other people find talking to a friend, using self-care, or getting out and about to distract themselves helpful. Here are more ideas of strategies that can used as alternatives to self-injury.

If you are worried about yourself or a friend who self-injures, let an RA or faculty member know. In King County, there is a 24-hour Crisis Line available at (206) 461-3222 or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.