By: Tiffani Rees
Mental Health Disorders include a wide variety of conditions, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic attacks. These mental disorder, along with other mental disorders, that affect many types of people are more common in certain age groups and at certain times of the year.
For college students, the mental health issues affecting them the most are suicide and depression, stress and anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, self-injury (not limited to cutting), bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders/schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and sleep issues, according to a team of doctors on learnpsychology.org/mental-health/. Some of these issues are what many of those at Saint Leo students are facing on campus.
“The most common issues students come to counseling services for are anxiety, depression, relationship issues (not limited to romantic relationships), and substance abuse. Stress and sleep issues are huge factors in dealing with issues as many people turn to substances to cope with stress and sleep issues,” said Tiffany Nelson, a counselor from Campus Counseling Services. “Some of the big differences between anxiety and depression are anxiety is someone dealing with fear, worry, and anxiety about the future, whereas depression is, at its purest, a low mood, lack of motivation, and loss of interest in things someone used to love.”
While all types of mental illnesses are possible in the summer, some are more common than others. The mental health issues to watch for in summer include ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD); although SAD is more common in the winter months, it is commonly called “reverse SAD” when it occurs in the summer months; and reverse SAD occurs in about 1 out of 10 cases, according to a mental health blog on psychologytoday.com.
Other types of mental illnesses to watch for include agoraphobia, which is an abnormal fear of being helpless in a situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing that is characterized initially often by panic or anticipatory anxiety and finally by the avoidance of open or public places, addictions, compulsions, and substance-related disorders, as well as any other mental illnesses that appear or worsen when the person is bored and not participating in anything.
“The most issues and situations that come up over the summer are family stressors, lack of structure and routine changes, and financial stressors in addition to the mental illnesses being present at any time of the year,” said Nelson.
The best ways for college students to reduce the effects of these mental illnesses during the summer are to seek out internships, jobs, volunteer opportunities, sports, exercise, continue to focus on educational goals and other short-term goals, and any other activity that will encourage the person to still remain a part of something and keep them on a structured schedule, according to a mental health blog on goodtherapy.org. This structured schedule and inclusion in activities will help reduce the chance the person will be bored and turn to dangerous habits, as well as keep them focused and driven, and give them a sense of belonging to something.
“It is important for you to keep in contact with your doctors if you have a diagnosed mental illness, and to try to establish somewhat of a routine over the summer where you try to maintain somewhat of your normal routine so your sleep doesn’t get off schedule, invest in your relationships with friends whether it’s at school or at home, and don’t be afraid to reach out if you feel like you need help. If you’re living at home with parents, keep open and clear communication with them about what is expected so everybody can be less stressed and happier,” said Nelson.
While many of these suggestions could keep people inside instead of enjoying the nice weather and possibly lead to a worsening of conditions, it is important to utilize days off, weekends, and vacation days to have something to look forward to, a chance to enjoy nice weather, and to keep their mood elevated by doing things they enjoy.
Nelson explained, “If none of the above suggestions work for an individual suffering from any of the disorders mentioned above, it is a good idea for that person to visit a licensed medical professional such as a counselor or doctor, or a religious leader if they are spiritual, and be honest about what they are going through so they can get the help that they need.”
In some cases, medications may be suggested, though other cases could see improvement with new, healthy coping mechanisms for what they experience without the need for medication, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website, adaa.org.
Also, it is important to remember that there is not a single medication that will work for everybody, and it may take time to find what medication and what dosage work for the person prescribed the medication. While many people do not want to use medications, it is important for people who need them take them that they take regularly, as prescribed, and talk to their doctor before changing or discontinuing use of the medication. Nevertheless, coping with mental illness whether during the school year or during the summer, it is still important to take care one oneself.
According to Nelson, “The strategies for coping during the school year and during the summer are primarily the same, taking care of yourself, trying to get enough sleep, getting out and doing things you enjoy, trying to exercise and be healthy, and just generally take care of yourself.”