SBL talks mental health, stressors for college students

Alyssa Cravens, Staff Reporter

Lisa Ballinger, a social worker clinic specialist for Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System’s Psychiatry and Counseling Unit, said the emotional wellbeing of college students is a growing concern in our rapidly changing and socially driven society.

She said for many students, leaving for college also means leaving behind a well-established support system, such as a family or community. However, clinical mental health issues cannot be attributed to a single factor.

Things such as age, social media and student-life stressors can also play a role in collegiate mental illness, Ballinger said.

According to the American Medical Association, 3/4 of all chronic mental illness begins by age 24.

College students chronologically may be considered adults, but they are still discovering and evolving within the 18-24 year period, Ballinger said.

They are still learning and finding their way, and the addition of a high stress environment such as university does not aide students’ mental health, Ballinger said.

In addition, she said, American students living in the present age of information have access to copious amounts of material at their fingertips—a privilege many previous generations of college students did not have.

Anyone who has access to the internet can publish information; however, many people forget once information is released, it is nearly impossible to take back, she said.

Because social media is a huge part of America’s culture, more and more students are experiencing mental crises related to thoughtless or hurtful online posts, Ballinger said.

Among those facing a mental illness, the biggest concern, she said, is anxiety.

A 2018 study performed by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health confirms this, asserting that among students receiving services in over 500 university and college counseling centers nationwide, anxiety was reported as the most frequent concern—affecting 61.8% of students—as well as the primary concern among those facing multiple mental health issues.

In recent years, the number of young individuals being treated for anxiety has grown and the age at which people develop symptoms and seek treatment for major anxiety has been younger and younger, Ballinger said.

College enrollees also face the customary stressors of simply being a student, she said: bearing a heavy work or class load, maintaining healthy interpersonal and social relationships, adjusting to the changing culture in the college atmosphere and stomaching the often great financial burden of obtaining a higher education.

Many students face a host of issues related to neglecting the most basic tasks of being human, such as poor sleep and poor eating habits, she said. It sounds simple, but merely getting rest, eating regularly, exercising and avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol can help normalize mental wellbeing.

“Sometimes sleep is more important than cramming,” Ballinger said.

Students facing clinical and ongoing medical illnesses have several local resources available to them, including Sarah Bush Lincoln’s psychiatry and counseling offices.

Additionally, Eastern offers students specific resources at its Health and Counseling Services clinic and Health Education Resource Center (HERC).

Alyssa Cravens can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].