Counselors urge students to seek help with finals over-stress

Story by Rob Hanson

As the academic pressure of a dwindling semester comes to a head with finals week approaching, campus counselors urge students to seek help if they are over-stressed.

Concerned friends and roommates are also advised to keep watch on people who are having a hard time dealing with stress and may be suicidal.

“The campus goes through cycles of toxicity,” said Dr. P.J. Kennedy, director of Counseling Services. “Mid-October through Thanksgiving are, at least from perspective, peak toxicity.”

Kennedy said there typically is also a small spike in depression and suicide attempts in the springtime, but break usually helps keeps such issues in check.

“It’s like having a release valve on a pressure cooker,” Kennedy said.

There have been five suicide threats this year and two attempts, according to University Police.

Last year the police responded to 26 threats and four attempts by students.

“You never know until the end of the school year how it’s going to go,” said University Police Sgt. Chris Kirchman. “I think you’re seeing more people who are seeking out counseling or help. It doesn’t necessarily lead to a suicide attempt or a threat.”

But just because a person doesn’t make an attempt or threat, it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t need help.

A 2008 faculty/student collaboration study for Counseling Services found that 2.8 percent of respondents struggled with serious suicidal thoughts, while 22.2 percent suffered from depression. When applied to the entire student body, that means more than one-fifth, or 2,200 students, battles depression.

“We do see many, many, many students for depression,” Kennedy said. “It is the most frequent reason that people come to Counseling Services. People can call in and get into a counseling session pretty rapidly. We have about six of those a day.”

Another 2008 study, conducted by the American College Health Association, found that 30.6 percent of more than 26,000 respondents nationwide were at one time too depressed to function, while 6.4 percent seriously considered suicide.

Twenty percent of respondents were treated for either anxiety or depression.

Kennedy said one of the most important things people can do if they are concerned about another person’s mental health is to simply ask him or her.

“You don’t make someone suicidal by asking them if they are suicidal,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy and Kirchman said they also want students to know they shouldn’t fear repercussions for calling the police or counseling services if they are concerned about someone.

If Counseling Services is called, someone can usually make an appointment within a day or two unless a person is in imminent danger; then an appointment can by made the same day.

If the police do respond, the person is generally taken to hospital for observation and evaluation.

“Our main objective is to get there and try to evaluate the situation,” Kirchman said. “We need to evaluate whether this person is a potential threat to themselves or others.”