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With the stressful final exam period approaching along with winter blues, new online therapy tools are being offered to students, including those at UCF.

According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness survey report, 27 percent of respondents, who were mostly college students or recent graduates, reported experiencing depression. Of those who weren't in college anymore, more than half said they stopped school due to a mental illness.

Both anxiety and depression are two of the most commonly diagnosed illnesses among college-student counseling clients, a 2014 report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University stated.

In November, UCF's Counseling and Psychological Services launched a new Therapist Assisted Online (TAO) program. Students can access the seven-week interactive program, which is specifically designed to help students overcome anxiety, 24/7.

The program offers online exercises and modules, and a weekly 10- to 15-minute video conference consultation with a therapist. CAPS has a sample TAO session on its website for students to test out.

“A certain amount of anxiety is good,” Christopher Hanes, CAPS director of clinical services, told UCF Today. “It keeps us alive. But when it begins to interfere with your daily life, it may be time to seek help. This specific program and our counseling staff offers students the support and tools they need. We’re here to help.”

Another online program, 7 Cups of Tea, offers an anonymous "listening" service. Glen Moriarty, 7 Cups founder, said the service has more than 100,000 listeners from more than 180 countries. Individuals can either sign up as a volunteer or sign up for help anonymously.

7 Cups volunteer and UCF psychology major Willandria Dixon was a listener for three months. Ever since Dixon can remember, she was often the one her friends would confide in, whether it was simply for advice or to vent about the toils of their day.

"Friends can still call me whenever — it's become a part of my life," Dixon said.

And that didn't change when she started college and volunteered with 7 Cups, which compelled her to transform her gift for listening to become a professional counselor in the future.

A couple of times per week for three months, Dixon would log in to 7 Cups and spend hours text chatting strangers about their problems.

”You need that listener if you don’t have family or friends who you can talk to about things or who might not understand," Dixon said about the service. "Sometimes you need someone who will just listen and not judge and respond. Response is always big — no one wants to feel like they’re talking to a wall, of course.”

7 Cups volunteers go through online "active listening" training modules, in which they're trained to provide acknowledgment and develop sincere listening skills that are more difficult to master through text chatting when compared to being face to face. Volunteers are also instructed to refer any potentially severe cases to professionals or suicide hotlines, since 7 Cups volunteers are not counselors and the service isn't a crisis hotline.

"We try to make it really personal and establish that connection, which can be hard because of the Internet’s nature. But after practice, it becomes second nature," Dixon said.

Moriarty said the anonymous service can help students who may be overcoming the negative stigmas associated with seeking therapy.

"A lot of students, mostly for stigma purposes, just struggle alone or they're too busy," Moriarty said. "They're kind of overwhelmed and they don't know how to get to that place. Sometimes, for some university counseling centers, there's a wait list."

7 Cups now has a "university support system," where universities, colleges or organizations can create their own portal on the website.

"One message I always try to send is: Hey, you're not alone. A lot of people feel like, 'I'm the only person struggling,' or 'I'm odd,' or 'I don't belong,' or 'There's something with me' — and the reality is that life is really hard and challenging for really everybody — you're not alone," Moriarty said.

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Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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