Awareness and Available Resources
By Caleb Trautwein, Owen Hoffman, and Sienna Hubin
Depression and similar mental illnesses have a lot of stigmas attached to them. The American Psychiatric Association mentioned that some of the stereotypes for mentally ill people are that they are dangerous, incompetent, to blame for their problems, and unpredictable. These stereotypes can have negative effects on people suffering from mental illnesses. These stereotypes can also have a negative effect on the people who perpetuate them. While there are a lot of people who believe that they could never have a mental illness like depression, that is a simplification of the problem as a great many factors can contribute to a person developing a mental illness.
When asked about how many students from the women’s dorm are recommended to reach out to the counseling center, Joelle Townsend, a resident assistant director in the dorm, said, “It depends on the week but on average it’s about three to four people a week.” Walla Walla University’s counseling center said that the most common mental health-related issues students come in for are anxiety and depression.
According to the World Health Organization, 3.8% of the population is affected by depression. Depression can be brought on by a number of factors including social, psychological, and biological. People who have gone through traumatic or stressful experiences are more likely to be at risk of developing depression though it can happen to anyone.
Symptoms of depression include feeling sad or empty and losing interest or pleasure in activities. If these symptoms are present for at least two weeks, a person can be diagnosed with depression. Other symptoms a person might experience include difficulty concentrating, feelings of low self-worth, loneliness, hopelessness about the future, suicidal thoughts, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and/or weight, and fatigue.
Matthew Vaughan, a full-time counselor at WWU, found that students frequently come to him for help with loneliness and hopelessness based in a fixation on perfection. Vaughan said, “People are really coming to expect the impossible for themselves.” In “Suicidal Ideation in Relation to Depression, Loneliness, and Hopelessness among University Students,” an article published by Maleka Pervin and Nafiza Ferdowshi, a positive correlation was found between suicidal tendencies, depression, loneliness, and hopelessness, respectively. During the COVID-19 pandemic, where people are likely to be socially isolated, students are more vulnerable to these problems.
For students who want to take preventive measures in managing their mental health, “the most important thing they should know, in consideration of the pandemic is to give themselves some grace and not feel alone or ashamed. This is not something that they are experiencing alone,” said Vaughan. “Everyone is running the same race but now with a heavy suit.”
If a student is having problems with their mental health, besides lifestyle changes, Vaughan suggested talking with someone. Ideally, the student should schedule an interview with a counselor, but simply talking with someone you trust can help a lot. Often, you may find that the problems you are struggling with are more relatable than you think. “This simple action can shift the culture of discussion,” said Vaughan.
As an alternative resource to traditional counseling, Vaughan recommended Talk Campus, an app free to download on android and iOS that functions as a support message board. This app allows for group support and gives more info on health and wellness services. For hesitant or nervous students seeking conversation, this app is a way to talk with people quickly and anonymously.
If there is one thing Vaughan wishes students to know, it is that sometimes you need to give yourself grace. Often, it is self-harshness that exasperates problems. “It’s OK to not be OK in the human experience,” said Vaughan. “The problem is the problem, not you.”
WWU’s on-campus counseling center is available to all students. Located in the same building as the bookstore, six counselors and therapists can help students work through challenges like anxiety, depression, relationship distress, childhood abuse, substance abuse, grief, and career uncertainty. In addition to counseling, the center provides students with life skills development, self-esteem help, and medication management.
According to the counseling page on the WWU website, the center offers individual, couple, and group counseling. Students have access to 10 free sessions per year. Currently, 180 students are taking advantage of the counseling center and the center usually sees around 220 students per school year.
When asked when a student should consider going to counseling, a source at the counseling center said, “Counseling is for everyone. Go sooner rather than later. It’s better to tackle issues while they are smaller rather than larger. If you feel anxious, alone, sad, depressed, or like you are functioning at your baseline, get help.”
To sign up for counseling, a student must first submit an application through their student portal. Once the center receives the application, they will reach out to the student and set up an initial appointment. Then, the student can attend their first 45-minute session online or in-person. All sessions are confidential.
A worker at the center said, “Counseling is a great resource and one that should be used. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed for asking for help. It takes a strong person to ask for help and you are strong by taking the first step.”