Common Mental Health Issues
For additional information on these and other common psychological topics of interest to college students (including self-injury, AD/HD, and sleep issues), also check out the helpful web site Learn Psychology.
Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety and stress are a normal part of life and are even adaptive in many conditions. Normal anxiety keeps us alert by making us attend to our surroundings in order to proceed with caution when appropriate and therefore is not usually a source for concern. At times, however, anxiety and stress can get out of hand, inexplicably reaching overwhelming levels. This can result in a dramatic reduction of productivity and can significantly intrude on one's quality of life. At times, there is no obvious or reasonable cause for the unusually high anxiety levels.
Some common symptoms of anxiety include the following:
feels restless, keyed up, or on edge
muscle tension, aches, or soreness
trouble falling or staying asleep (a.k.a. insomnia issues)
irritability or impatience
physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea or diarrhea, and trouble swallowing
Common sources of anxiety and stress for college students include concerns about managing their workload, interpersonal issues such as meeting new people and roommate difficulties, and issues related to loneliness/homesickness. Some useful coping strategies for coping with college stress are managing your time effectively, setting priorities, learning to say "no" when necessary, and developing an academic routine. For more information on stress management, visit the Health Promotion Hot Topics! page on Stress.
If you have concerns about the anxiety or stress you are experiencing, please do not hesitate to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 and schedule an appointment to speak with one of our counselors. For further online resources about anxiety, go to our Links Page or check out our Self Help Library for books about anxiety and stress. Or, if you would like to participate in a free, anonymous online screening program for anxiety, go here.
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Depression and Suicide
The blues. Bummed out. Down in the dumps. We all have times when we feel depressed. To experience feelings of sadness and times when you just can’t get going is a normal reaction to disappointment, loss, or situational stress. But how do you differentiate this from the more serious illness called "depression?" Some characteristics of more "normal" depressed feelings are:
- it’s easy to identify a specific trigger
you’re able to effectively use our normal coping mechanisms
you’re able to carry out our regular activities--attending class, getting work done, eating, sleeping, etc.
the feelings typically don’t last more than a day or two*
*In the case of a significant loss, such as the breakup of a relationship or death of a loved one, the normal grieving process takes place over a longer span of time. For more information, see the section on grief and loss below.
In contrast to those situational and transient periods of feeling down, clinical depression is a disorder which can affect your ability to function in every aspect of your life. When most of us think about depression, the image which comes to mind is one of overwhelming sadness. Although many people do experience this when they are depressed, others might feel different emotions, such as numbness or anger. Also, clinical depression disrupts your mental, physical, and social functioning. Some of the most frequent signs of depression include:
So what can you do when you’re depressed? Particularly for times when you’re experiencing more situational or milder feelings of depression, you can reach out to others, talk to someone you trust, take care of yourself (get enough sleep, healthy food, and exercise), and be gentle with yourself. Sometimes, especially when people experiencing more severe depression and struggling just to get through the days, they need the help of a professional. Counseling and psychotherapy are extremely effective in treating depression, either alone or in conjunction with medication. The important thing to know is that depression is one of the most well understood and treatable psychological disorders, and help is available.
- loss of interest or pleasure in things/activities which you used to enjoy
crying frequently, often without specific reason
withdrawing from contact with others
loss of motivation and energy
difficulty concentrating or making decisions
sleep disturbances--difficulty falling or staying asleep or craving excess sleep
appetite disturbances--loss of appetite or craving more food than normal
difficulty performing normal everyday tasks
thoughts about and/or preoccupation with death
Because suicidal feelings and thoughts can go hand-in-hand with depression, it’s important to know some of the warning signs of suicide:
- verbalizing suicidal thoughts, directly or indirectly
marked change in the person’s usual patterns of behavior
giving away money or valued possessions
writing a will, good-bye letter or suicide note
severe family or other relationship problems
social withdrawal, isolation
If you or someone you know is experiencing the above signs, it is essential to get help right away. For detailed information about accessing help on the Geneseo campus, go to our Emergency Information page. You can also get help by calling Life Line, a 24-hour crisis hotline, at 800-310-1160, or by calling 911. You may also find it useful to review this suicide risk questionnaire, ACT now to stop a suicide and or to download some of the free apps we have identified for suicide prevention.
Concerned about someone's suicidal statements on social media sites? If you know the person in real life and/or know where the person is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) so that you can talk to a crisis counselor. You may also contact the safety teams at the social media sites listed below:
- Facebook: Click here to anonymously report someone as suicidal on Facebook. A member of Facebook’s Safety Team will send the user an e-mail with the Lifeline number and possibly a link to chat with Lifeline counselor.
- Twitter: Click here and select “Self-Harm” to send an e-mail to Twitter reporting a suicidal user. Twitter will send the user a direct message with the Lifeline number.
- MySpace: Click on the “Report Abuse” link that appears at the bottom of every MySpace page and complete the form. MySpace will then send an e-mail to the MySpace user with the Lifeline number.
- YouTube: To report suicidal content, click on the flag icon under a YouTube video and select “Harmful Dangerous Acts” and then “Suicide or Self-Injury.” YouTube will review the video; they may send a message to the user who uploaded the video offering the Lifeline number.
- Tumblr: Click here to write an e-mail to Tumblr about a suicidal user. Include as much information as possible including the URL of the Tumblr blog. A member of Tumblr’s Safety Team will send the user an e-mail with the Lifeline number.
For additional guidelines and resources, including a daily chat, check out YouMatter.com.
If you have concerns about depressive symptoms you are experiencing, particularly suicidal ideation, please do not hesitate to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 and schedule an appointment to speak with one of our counselors. For further online resources about depression (including Bipolar or Manic Depression) and suicide, go to our Links Page or check out our Self Help Library for books about depression. Or, if you would like to participate in a free, anonymous online screening program for depression or other mood disorders, go here.
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Grief and Loss
Losing a family member or friend to death is one of the most difficult challenges we face in our lives. As we deal with grief, we are often flooded with intense feelings, and we may find that we are not able to function in ways which are "normal" for us; therefore, people who are experiencing grief sometimes think that there is something wrong with them or that they are "going crazy." Actually, there is a very wide range of normal responses to grief, and the way in which each person experiences that grief is likely to be very individualized. Among the responses which many people have to grief are some of the following:
- a sense of overwhelming sadness
feelings of despair or hopelessness
anger at the deceased, oneself, others, or God
disturbances in sleep and appetite
feeling guilty about "unfinished business" in the relationship
feeling disorganized and distracted
- rapid and intense mood changes, including crying frequently and for no reason
The grieving process generally follows a kind of pattern or flow. Initially, you may experience numbness and a state of disbelief. This is often followed by yearning for the person who has died, which can be experienced as "waves" of sadness that come and go. As the first intense feelings pass, you may experience a deeper or more subtle sense of disorganization, despair, and apathy about everyday events. Finally, you may experience reorganization in which the ability to move forward into life without the loved one becomes more possible.
While the old maxim that time is the best healer is certainly true with grief, there are also things which you can do to facilitate the grieving process.
First and foremost is to be patient with yourself. There is no "right" way to grieve, and you should expect that for a while at least, you will not feel or function like yourself.
Openly expressing your feelings and thoughts about your loved one and the impact of the loss can help you to process your feelings and to heal.
Taking time to remember the good times you had plus the positive things about that person and your relationship with them can help you to deal with any guilt you may be feeling.
Finally, taking good care of yourself physically--eating, sleeping, exercising, and being thoughtful about your alcohol intake--can help to minimize possible negative health impacts.
If you have a friend who is experiencing grief, take a look at our handout on What to Do If Someone You Know...Is Grieving. You can also find an up-to-date analysis on some myths about grief in this TIME magazine article.
If you have concerns about the grief or loss you are experiencing, please do not hesitate to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 and schedule an appointment to speak with one of our counselors. For further online resources about grief and loss, go to our Links Page or check out our Self Help Library for books about grief and loss.
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Eating Disorders and Body Image
College health experts have estimated that as many as 70 percent of all women on campus have body-image issues significant enough to disrupt their day-to-day lives--ranging from obsessing about weight to actual bingeing and purging. As our population as a whole has become more concerned with weight control, younger and younger children, both male and female, have adopted restrictive eating patterns. What may begin as abnormal behaviors towards food, eating, weight control, and body image--usually during adolescence--may develop into anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or other forms of disordered eating. Self-starvation, binge behaviors, and other extreme behaviors can result in mood changes, stress, and health problems. As mentioned above, these behaviors often interfere with daily functioning in areas such as academics and relationships.
The following are some common signs which could indicate the presence of an eating disorder:
unusual eating habits or rituals
eating alone or in secret
hoarding or stealing food
preoccupation with food and eating
vigorous or compulsive exercise
loss of menses (amenorrhea)
episodes of binge eating or eating large amounts of food when not hungry
purging behaviors (use of vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise)
going to the bathroom after eating
Even if you don't have symptoms of an eating disorder, you may want to consider whether or not you have a healthy relationship with food. If you answered"yes" to two or more questions in the list below, you might want to speak with a counselor about these issues.
Do you avoid eating when you’re hungry?
Is it hard for you to decide what and how much you will eat?
Do you limit your food choices to fat-free, diet or "healthy" foods?
Have you come to think about foods in terms of "good" and "bad" foods?
Do you find yourself preoccupied with food?
Is it typical for you to count your calories or read the calorie information on food packaging?
Do you base your self esteem on how much you eat or weigh?
Do you feel that food controls your life?
It may also be helpful to consult this handout, What's Going On With Me? For information on establishing healthy eating and exercise habits, visit Health Promotion Hot Topics! page on Nutrition & Fitness.
If you have concerns about eating disorders and/or body image, please do not hesitate to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 and schedule an appointment to speak with one of our counselors. For further online resources about eating disorders and body image, go to our Links Page or check out our Self Help Library for books about eating disorders and body image. Or, if you would like to participate in a free, anonymous online screening program for eating disorders, go here.
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Alcohol and Other Drugs
Young people begin to experiment and test limits as they transition from childhood to adulthood. They do so because they are moving from a familiar world to the larger and unknown environment, within which they begin to define their own identity and personal values. It is also during this time that some young people may engage in behaviors that place them and others at risk due to a lack of knowledge, including using alcohol or drugs.
Alcohol and other drugs affect your brain. Drinking alcohol or using other drugs lead to a loss of coordination, poor judgment, slowed reflexes, distorted vision, memory lapses, blackouts, and even death.Alcohol and other drugs affect your body.Alcohol and other drugs can damage every organ in your body. It is absorbed directly into your bloodstream and can increase your risk for a variety of life-threatening diseases, including cancer, liver damage, and others.Alcohol and other drugs affect your self-control.Alcohol and other drugs lower your inhibitions and impair your judgment. They can lead to risky behaviors, including having unprotected sex and driving while under a substance influence. This may expose you to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases or may cause unwanted pregnancy; or you may be at an increased risk of being seriously injured, involved in car crashes, or affected by violence.
The following are some warning signs which may indicate a problem with alcohol and/or other drugs:
- getting drunk or high on drugs on a regular basis
lying about how much alcohol or other drugs he or she is using
avoiding others in order to get drunk or high
giving up activities he or she used to do, such as sports, homework just to use drugs or drink
planning drinking or using drugs in advance, hiding alcohol and drugs, drinking or using other drugs alone
having to drink more or use higher amounts of drugs to get the same high
believing that in order to have fun you need to drink or use other drugs
pressuring others to drink or use other drugs
taking risks, including sexual risks or drinking and driving
having "blackouts" or memory lapses
feeling run-down and sick, hopeless, depressed, or even suicidal
sounding selfish and not caring about others
constantly talking about drinking or using other drugs
getting in trouble with the law
suspension from school for an alcohol or other drug-related incidents
For more information, visit the Health Promotion Hot Topics! page on Alcohol & Drugs. Also, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provides an excellent overview of Commonly Abused Drugs. If you are interested in Red Watch Band, a movement is designed to end alcohol overdose deaths by teaching students how to handle alcohol emergencies and summon professional help, visit our Red Watch Band page; or, learn more about how you can help by visiting the Stand Up! page for Alcohol & Other Drugs.
If you have concerns about your own use of alcohol and other drugs, please do not hesitate to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 and schedule an appointment to speak with one of our counselors. Health & Counseling also has an Alcohol & Other Drugs Program Coordinator, Sarah Covell. Sarah is available for consultations around alcohol and other drug usage issues; she can work with you to help you reach your goals around your substance use.
For further online resources about alcohol and other drugs, go to our Links Page or check out our Self Help Library for books about alcohol and other drugs. Or, if you would like to participate in a free, anonymous online screening program for alcohol, go here; you can also take a quiz from the National Institutes of Health called Rethinking Drinking, which compares your drinking patterns to those of other US Adults. Finally, for current information about local AA, Al-Anon, and NA groups, contact the Livingston County Council for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse at 585-991-5012.
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Sexual Abuse, Assault, Rape, and Other Trauma
Child sexual abuse, which includes any unwanted sexual contact that occurred during childhood (such as fondling, oral sex, attempted rape, and rape), can be devastating to the victim. Most children do not or cannot tell others what happened--often related to feelings of fear and shame--and therefore, they do not receive help; their secret is often kept into adulthood. Unfortunately, many of the effects of childhood sexual abuse can also continue into adulthood. Some of these effects may include the following:
- a basic mistrust of both self and others
- low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness
- difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- unresolved emotions, including fear and anger
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
As adults, both men and women can be victims of sexual assault and/or rape. When sexual assault and rape occurs on college campuses, in most cases, the perpetrator is someone who is known to the victim, hence the term date or acquaintance rape. In addition, a high percentage of these situations involve alcohol, where either one one or both of those involved have been drinking. If you or a friend has experienced an incidence of sexual assault or rape, here are some things to keep in mind:
Remember, it is your choice how to proceed following a sexual assault or rape. However, if you are having difficulties, we encourage you to reach out to others for help.
- No matter what, the assault or rape was not your fault.
- Visit Sexual Assault - Focus on Education (S.A.F.E.). This section details Geneseo's information for victims of sexual assault, provides contact information for Geneseo's Title IX Coordinator, connects to pages for Geneseo's Sexual Assault Teach-in program, and offers additional resources.
- Consider seeking medical attention for prophylactic treatment for both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as to have evidence collected via a rape kit. The rape kit, which can be obtained up to 96 hours after the incident, is preserved for 30 days in the absence of legal charges (or longer if needed); if you decide not to prosecute, all information collected is destroyed after this time. Geneseo utilizes the SAFE Center at Strong Memorial Hospital Emergency Department for this purpose.
- If you do seek medical attention, call RESTORE Sexual Assault Services and request that a rape crisis advocate be present. The Livingston County hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-527-1757; all hotline calls are responded to within 10 minutes (for Monroe County, call 1-585-546-2777). In addition, SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) is a free service for students seeking medical transportation following an assault.
- If you choose not to seek medical attention, Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECP) can also be obtained from Health Services by calling 585-245-5736 during business hours; this service is provided free of charge. (Please note: ECP can reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected vaginal intercourse. However, the pills work best when taken within 72 hours; during this time, they can reduce the risk of pregnancy from 75-89%.) For more information about ECP, visit the Sexual Health Clinic's Other Sexual Health Issues page.
- You may also wish to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 to schedule an appointment to speak with a professional counselor; please inform our support staff of the reason for your call so that you may be seen as soon as possible.
- RESTORE Sexual Assault Services is available 24 hours by calling their hotline, 800-527-1757 (Livingston, Genesee, Orleans, & Wyoming Counties; for Monroe County, call 1-585-546-2777). A RESTORE counselor can provide support, advocacy and educational resources to Geneseo students as needed.
- For more information about how you can help, visit the Stand Up Sexual Assault Awareness page; or, for information about general personal safety issues on campus, visit the Campus Personal Safety Committee page.
In addition to the above types of abuse and assault, exposure to any kind of traumatic event in which grave physical harm occurred (or was threatened) can lead to the development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Other examples of traumatic events include violent mugging, gay (or lesbian) bashing, physical abuse, accidents (particularly auto accidents), natural/human caused disasters, and military combat. Both the victims of these events and their families are at risk for developing the disorder. PTSD can be an extremely debilitating condition which may include the following:
- frightening memories, thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks of the ordeal--these are frequently triggered by events, objects, or people that are reminders of the ordeal
- a general increase in fearfulness which may alternate with emotional numbness
- feelings of intense guilt
- efforts to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the original trauma(s)
- sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, irritability, and/or outbursts of anger are common
For more information about PTSD, visit Gift From Within, a site for anyone who has experienced trauma; see also our The Effects of Traumatic Events handout for additional details about trauma reactions.
If you have concerns about sexual abuse, assault, or rape, please do not hesitate to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 and schedule an appointment to speak with one of our counselors. For further online resources about sexual abuse, assault, and rape, go to our Links Page or check out our Self Help Library for books about sexual abuse, assault, and rape. Or, if you would like to participate in a free, anonymous online screening program for PTSD, go here.
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Helping a Friend
When someone you know is experiencing difficulties, you may feel helpless and unsure how to assist your friend. Here are some basic strategies for how you can help:
- Listen and be supportive. Listening is perhaps the one most important thing you can do to help your friend. Effective listening involves taking the time to listen, encouraging the other person to talk about their feelings, keeping your own feelings and advice in check, validating what your friend is going through (including what s/he has already done to work on the problem), and being compassionate.
- Brainstorm and problem-solve potential solutions. Although your friend may resent your attempts to simply give advice, you can engage your friend in problem-solving by helping them to generate possible course of action.
- Encourage your friend to talk with other friends and/or family members. The larger your friend's support system, the better--no only does this help your friend, but also it takes some of the pressure off you.
- Direct your friend to available resources. For example, you may want to suggest that your friend speak with a counselor on campus (go here for more information on How to Refer to Counseling Services). If your friend is resistant to this, you could also suggest that s/he check out available Self-Help resources online, including our free online screenings for depression, alcohol use, and eating disorders.
It is also important to take any talk of suicide seriously; up to 80% of people who commit suicide have told someone they are thinking about it. If you think a friend is suicidal, get help immediately--even if this means breaking a confidence. Involve others who can help, such as your friend's parents, counselors, residence life staff, and university police. Also be sure to review the information on Suicide above.
Above all, remember that it is not your responsibility to solve your friend's problems. It is definitely okay to set limits with your friend about how much you are willing to be involved. Be sure to take care of your own needs, and don't forget that help is available for you if you need it. You may also find it helpful to review this handout on Limit-Setting for setting appropriate boundaries with your friend.
For more information on helping your friend with specific issues, including thoughts of suicide, visit our Helping Others page. If you still have concerns about helping a friend, please do not hesitate to call our office at 585-245-5716 and ask either to speak with the on-call counselor or to schedule a consultation appointment.. For further online resources about various mental health topics, go to our Links Page or check out our Self Help Library for book resources.
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Note: This page has information about some common mental health issues that people experience. This list of mental health issues and related topics is certainly not exhaustive, and if an issue isn’t listed here, that does not mean it isn’t a real concern or valid reason to seek counseling. If there are other topics you think we should include on this page and/or you wish to report a broken link, please let us know.
It’s also important to remember that both this page and our Helpful Links page are designed simply to provide some basic education about mental health issues. The information included in our pages cannot take the place of counseling or therapy and does not qualify anyone who is not a trained mental health professional to make diagnoses.