UCF students struggle with depression, anxiety
Sit back right now and ask yourself, "Is my plate full?"
Dr. James Schaus said if your plate is too full, you need to re-examine your life.
More than 65,000 students are seen at UCF's Health Center annually, and Medical Director Schaus said a large percentage of that number is students who are being seen for mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and stress.
Mental health disorders are often an imbalance in the neurochemicals, and Schaus said students who have a neurochemical deficiency or imbalance may need to take medication, such as antidepressants.
The Health Center works very closely with the colleagues in Counseling and Psychological Services to help better a students' well-being.
There are three full-time psychiatrists at the Health Center who can provide medication — which first requires a referral by a primary care provider — but there is a fourth that is currently in the process of being hired.
"There's been a rapid increase over the last two years in mental health problems seen on college campuses, and we're staffing to meet that need," Schaus said.
The National College Health Assessment — a national survey that collects information about a students' health habits, behaviors and perceptions — is conducted every year at the Health Center with randomly selected students; 719 surveys were completed within the last year, said Megan Pabian, coordinator of University Relations & Public Affairs for UCF Student Health Services.
According to the survey, 27.3 percent of students said stress affected his or her performance, 21.9 percent said anxiety and 12.8 percent said depression.
In terms of clinical depression, Schaus said the Health Center conducts a PHQ2 screening — a two-question screen for depression — and administrators found that about 10 percent of their patients meet the definition of clinical depression.
This year, 58 percent of students said they feel overwhelmed with anxiety, 6.7 percent said they have seriously considered suicide and 34 percent said they have felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.
"Having depression definitely has an impact on my school work. It's like a huge weight holding me down," said Kayla McCann, a junior communication sciences and disorders major.
McCann has reached out to CAPS, and said it has helped her realize she is not alone.
"I just really think it is important for someone that suffers from depression and anxiety to have someone they can talk to openly about their feelings," she said.
For some students, it is their friends who they are most concerned about when it comes to distress.
Ashley Peters, a freshman history and communications major, said she has watched one of her best friends suffer from severe anxiety and depression.
"It made her feel useless and worthless quite often," Peters said. "Her grades would go down, and that would make her feel more stressed and anxious. It was a nasty cycle."
Dealing with depression most of her life has caused her friend to participate in self-destructive behavior; but for the past few months, she has been going to CAPS to try to build herself up.
Jessie Tyson, a freshman graphic design major, has also seen someone very close to her go through distress, but it has caused her to experience it as well.
"My sister grew up having anxiety, so I saw the effects it had on her. As I got older, I stared to develop anxiety and stress, and it becomes a part of your everyday life," Tyson said.
Her first semester at UCF was extremely stressful as she was dealing with overwhelming anxiety, which she describes as a constant fear of the worst.
"It's strange because one day you're perfectly fine, and then next the world is crumbling around you. I've found that talking to people helps immensely," she said.
Unfortunately, Schaus said there is a significant number of students who need help, but do not seek it.
According to the NCHA survey, only half of the students who need help are seen and treated by professionals. In other words, if 100 percent of students are suffering from distress, only 50 percent will seek help. Schaus said he thinks this is because there is a stigma about mental health conditions.
"People don't think they feel comfortable talking about it, and there's a perception that they may not experience improvement, even with help," he said.
However, he stressed that those who work at the Health Center want students to ask for help.
"This is what we're here to do, to not only improve their health, but go beyond that and help them improve their academic performance," he said. "A visit with either CAPS or Health Services is always a good idea."
Rachel Stuart is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.