Feeling stressed?

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September 28, 2010

12:00 AM

The Office of Health Education is hosting a mental health screening day this coming Wednesday, and you need to go. You, reader, specifically.

In many ways, the above statement has a pejorative undertone. It implies that the need for mental help (treatment, guidance, whatever the term) is something of which one is accused, an assertion of abnormality in a way that the need for other medical treatment is not. Despite widespread recognition that the lack of mental health treatment for college students is a “problem” which college communities nationwide desperately need to “confront,” personally recognizing the utility of mental help is still widely seen as shameful, as a recognition of defeat. For that reason alone, you — if you are representative of the larger student population, and let’s say that you are — will likely be frightened away from attending a screening that is in every way to your personal benefit.

This is a plea, however ineffective it may ultimately be, for you to forgo that irrational and potentially unhealthy fear.

Anyone who has read a news magazine in recent years has undoubtedly been informed that mental health problems among many college students often go undiagnosed. That fact is, unfortunately, true. The greater number of high school graduates being pushed into college means that many incoming students are not prepared to deal with the stresses of a college environment. But discussing this trend as a macro-level problem — which it is — obscures the fact that it has a very individual and personal solution. While promoting general awareness is important, advocating a personal awareness of one’s own mental health is what is really essential.

Much of this misguided perception flows from a fundamental misunderstanding of what is meant by the term “mental health.” Of course, all those big words, such as depression and a litany of other clinical-sounding “disorders,” fall under this banner. But it includes a whole host of smaller things as well, many of which are often overlooked. Relaxation, stress management and even general physical activity are all important aspects of mental health — aspects that Wednesday’s screening is also aimed at promoting. Personal trainers and fitness instructors from the Student Recreation Center will be on hand to demonstrate helpful stretching and relaxation techniques. Counselors will share some strategies for dealing with midterm stress. That is to say, whoever you are and whatever your preconceived notions might be, everyone has something to gain.

None of us is perfectly healthy — the gargantuan public health sector should be testament enough to that. We all have unhealthy habits, moments of emotional instability, or at least some room for improvement in that regard. It’s a necessarily human characteristic. What we may not have are the correct tools with which to deal with those moments. Those skills Wednesday’s screening can, even playfully, help you discover.

Seeking mental help obviously is, and should remain, a personal decision. It just doesn’t have to be a big-word-weighted one. So, go. Take a friend, get a one-minute massage and de-stress before midterms. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be bullied into staying away.

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