We’re all anxious – but that’s okay


I smile when people react defensively to the statement, “let’s talk about mental health,” as if it’s something scary, shameful, or unique. It’s not – we’re human; we face emotional, social and physical challenges throughout the day. It is when these issues become overwhelming, prevent us from doing the things we need to do, drain or limit our energy, or interfere with the normal functioning of our lives that they need to be addressed.

Right now, for example, we are experiencing a shared emotional crisis brought on by the prolonged pandemic. The impact shouldn’t be minimized or trivialized – it’s been horrific enough for everyone – but as a board leader at Sacred Heart University, I’m very concerned about how this has affected our students.

What we are seeing – and this impression is being emulated in colleges across America – is that many students suffer from a mountain of anxiety and depression. The numbers are unprecedented in my seven years as a councillor, and it’s no surprise: we’re overwhelmed with uncertainty, with no obvious end in sight, and we’re tired of being afraid, of being limited, uncomfortable or coping with grief. .

Grief is not just loss of life. It is the loss of things that students take for granted in their lives, such as opportunity, independence, their personal communities and identity. It looks like a lingering gray cloud hanging over their future. Internships, study abroad, jobs, entertainment and recreation, restaurants, gatherings with family and friends have all been reduced or suspended.

Add to this emotional chaos the burden of freshmen and sophomores who have spent part of the last three years learning virtually. These students have anxiety about going back to school, making friends, dealing with roommates, and general worries about taking risks. Their grief is disenfranchised and they are depressed. And turning to a counselor or therapist isn’t easy or comfortable, because first you have to accept that you need help, and then you have to be willing to put effort into working through those feelings.

Our mission at USD is to ensure that anyone who needs access to an advisor is seen — and seen in a timely manner. We spread this word through emails and posters, social media, conversations with student housing staff and ongoing outreach. We talk to teachers about how to recognize signs of depression in their students and teach students how to identify these signs in themselves and others. We have embedded a counselor in our athletics department and adjusted our hours at the campus counseling center to free up time each afternoon for students who may need same-day appointments. We have also moved from weekly one-on-one sessions to regular sessions every two weeks in order to meet double the workload during this difficult time.

Anxiety, when properly harnessed, can be a powerful tool for positive behavior. It’s okay to take risks, to care about doing well, to push to excel. These actions help us achieve success and produce results that build self-esteem, confidence and resilience. However, it is important to know when your feelings have become an obstacle, limiting your abilities and affecting your sleep, your concentration or your interactions with others. When we have too much on our emotional plates, we can become depressed, paralyzed, and sometimes suicidal. We may not be comfortable confiding in friends, parents, or family — this is when access to counseling is most critical.

To provide the highest quality care and integrated behavioral health services, SHU has just become a JED Campus, a national initiative of the Jed Foundation, designed to guide schools through a collaborative process of systems, programs and comprehensive policy development to build on existing students. mental health, addictions and suicide prevention efforts. We have formed a multidisciplinary coalition of professionals from across our university to serve on a related JED task force. This strategic partnership will help us create positive, lasting and systemic change in our university community.

Not everyone needs advice – we have to be careful not to pathologize all human emotions. It’s normal to be sad, lonely, disappointed, angry or frustrated. It’s what we choose to do about those emotions that matters. Here at SHU, we are committed to creating an inclusive and caring environment for all students, faculty, and staff. It is a healthy response to this unhealthy period we are currently going through.

James Geisler
is the Director of Student Welfare Services at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.


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