An inside look at mental health on campus

Westminster students participate in a yoga class on campus. Professor Nina Vought said she thinks yoga fills a void for students. Photo by Rachel Robertson

Westminster students participate in a yoga class on campus. Professor Nina Vought said she thinks yoga fills a void for students. Photo by Rachel Robertson

To combat the growing issue of mental health among college students, Westminster has put programs in place to help Griffins stay mentally healthy, including the Counseling Center, Outdoor Recreation Program and group-fitness classes.

About 30 percent of college students in 2011 reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function,” according to the American College Health Association.

Lisa Jones, director of the Counseling Center, said that the center is available to see students one-on-one in therapy or group therapy sessions. She said the center’s focus is on emotional wellness and mental-health issues on campus.

Jones has worked at the Counseling Center for about eight years and said she believes that all aspects of wellness, including mental and physical health, interact and affect each other.

“Our ultimate goal, or mission is to help people understand themselves better, clarify their goals and feel like they can cope,” Jones said.

About seven percent of Westminster’s student body visit the Counseling Center each year, Jones said.

Amy Blommer, junior psychology major, said she has used the Counseling Center in the past and appreciated the experience she had.

“It gave me a chance to bounce ideas and feelings off a third party who actually had the knowledge and experience to tell me what I could do,” Blommer said.

Students in Westminster’s Outdoor Recreation program on a backpacking trip during Fall Break. Westminster’s Outdoor Program Coordinator said he enjoys the outdoors because it helps him stay mentally healthy. Photo courtesy Kelly Robbins

Students in Westminsters Outdoor Recreation program on a backpacking trip during Fall Break. Westminsters Outdoor Program Coordinator said he enjoys the outdoors because it helps him stay mentally healthy. Photo courtesy Kelly Robbins

Though Blommer no longer uses the Counseling Center, she said she practices balance and moderation to stay mentally healthy.

Jones, director of the Counseling Center, said she encourages students to be mindful of their schedules and what they’re involved in on campus.

“If you over-schedule or are over-involved, the negatives can outweigh the positives,” Jones said.

The Counseling Center can help students figure out ways to balance a busy schedule while taking time out for themselves and staying mentally in balance.

Time management and scheduling are common tools that Jones urges students to use when trying to balance their lives. Creating a schedule isn’t for everyone, but making sure students are getting enough sleep, eating regularly and having time for exercise are crucial to their mental health, Jones said.

“We try to get past the all or nothing [mentality],” Jones said. “You can’t maybe exercise everyday or maybe it’s too hard to start an  exercise program, but maybe find ways of just being active as you go through your day.”

Jones said she promotes the use of other resources on campus such as Westminster’s health and wellness programs and its yoga classes to stay mentally fit.

Nina Vought—director of the dance program, theater professor and yogini—teaches yoga and said she thinks practicing yoga is a good way to stay mentally healthy.

“Yoga fills up every single semester,” Vought said, “That tells you it’s filling this void for mental health on campus.”

Vought said yoga fills her physical and mental well-being and helps her cope better with challenges in her daily life.

The Counseling Center employees suggest students have as many coping skills as they can. Practicing yoga and mindfulness can help with coping abilities, said Jones, director of the Counseling Center.

“People with 10 or more healthy coping skills are much more resilient to the effects of stress than those who don’t have as many coping skills,” Jones said.

In addition to having time management skills, staying physically healthy and implementing coping skills, Jones said she thinks having a sense of community is important to mental health, and she encourages students to get involved on campus.

Amy Blommer, junior psychology major, said social connections play a huge role in her mental health.

Students fill up the yoga classes in HWAC each semester. Yoga can be an important method for students to cope with stress and to maintain mental health. Photo by Rachel Robertson

Students fill up the yoga classes in HWAC each semester. Yoga can be an important method for students to cope with stress and to maintain mental health. Photo by Rachel Robertson

“Social needs must be met for me to have a stable mental health,” Blommer said. “When my social needs are met, I can better focus on my academic, physical or spiritual needs.”

Jason Blauch, Outdoor Recreation Program coordinator, said he spends time outside to stay mentally in balance. Blauch said Westminster’s Outdoor Recreation Program promotes mental health by creating a space to be active and outdoors. Plus, he said it can be a great way to get involved on campus.

“Besides being outdoors and being active, for people who are involved in the program as trip leaders, it gives a sense of empowerment and a sense of responsibility,” Blauch said.

Blauch said he is a strong proponent of mental health and tries to take time out for his own mental health by going on personal trips in the outdoors and participating in other activities that aren’t outside so he can be a well-rounded person.

“[Mental health] affects everything we do,” Blauch said. “I feel like I can be a better friend, husband and co-worker when I feel a sense of calm and I don’t feel so frantic.”

Blauch said that, when he feels mentally healthy, he can be more objective and is able to address other people with less baggage.

“You can take a situation for what is is and not what you perceive it is,” Blauch said. “General human interaction is more productive when we’re not in our own heads.”