The American College Health Association conducts a national survey of student health, known as the National College Health Assessment, at college institutions each year.
Last year, the survey found that 29.5 percent of students felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” Nearly 7 percent “seriously considered suicide.”
But only 10.6 percent said they sought help with those feelings from a professional.
Julie Nix, director of Jacksonville State University’s Office of Counseling Services in 140 Daugette Hall, knows why.
“There’s a stigma attached to it,” she says. Students think that “they’re going to have to lie down on a couch and talk about their childhood or issues with their mother. It’s really not like that.”
Nix says that this period of life—from the time a student leaves high school to the time they finish college—is “probably the period when you go through the most life changes.”
Even good changes bring stress, the number one cause of mental health problems.
For Nix, it’s important that students know her office is accessible when they feel too stressed to function.
She says she’s “really put an emphasis on programming across campus” in an effort to make herself and her staff more familiar to students.
The office of Counseling Services employs two counselors, Linda Shelton and Mary Clark, and two licensed and certified social workers: Nix herself, and Len McCauley.
Each member of Nix’s staff teaches a portion of the STU 101 course, which is a mandatory elective for any student with less than 24 earned hours.
Shelton also advises the Active Minds student group, which promotes good mental health by hosting events addressing topics such as self-esteem and body image.
Nix says that the group is considering showing the award-winning film “Silver Linings Playbook” this fall.
Her goal is for students to see her and the other counseling staff members at events and in the classroom, and feel comfortable talking to them about issues like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Counseling is free and available to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff, and can be arranged either in person, by phone or online with a request form.
“At some point in everyone’s life, they’re going to benefit from talking to a counselor,” says Nix. “Why not take advantage of it while it’s free and accessible right on campus?”
By working closely with JSU’s Student Health Center, the Counseling Services office can also provide prescriptive services to students and faculty who require medication for their anxiety or depression.
If her office can’t meet the needs of a member of the JSU community, Nix says that they also provide referrals to psychiatric care, hospitalization or more intensive substance abuse treatment.
The services that Nix and her staff provide are confidential.
“The student has to give us permission to talk to anybody on their behalf,” says Nix. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Asking for help can be as simple as joining one of the student groups that operate out of the Counseling Services office, such as Active Minds.
One group, Survivors Overcoming Abusive Relationships (SOAR), meets on the third Tuesday of each month and is open to members of the Jacksonville community.
Two substance abuse recovery groups, New Pathways and the Gamecock Recovery Group, exist to help those with addiction; however, New Pathways requires a meeting with a counselor first.
Julie and her office also serve as the testing center for the University. If a student needs to take a residual ACT or the CBASE, they can do so at Counseling Services.
Counseling Services arranges CLEP tests and math placement tests, and while most testing services are available on a walk-in basis from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the ACT and CBASE are scheduled in advance.
Testing schedules can be found on the office’s website.
JSU’s Peer Educators also operates through the Office of Counseling Services.
Nix and her staff advise the group of 23 students in putting on presentations for residence halls, classroooms and other student groups in exchange for course credit.
During the school year, Peer Educators also organizes weeklong events at JSU, like a Campus Safety Week and National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week.
The group also hosts events and projects for domestic violence awareness in October, World Aids Day in December, and healthy relationships during the month of February.