Students take on mental health issues together


Mental health issues often go untreated as sufferers confuse their illness with a character flaw, leading these afflictions to be called silent killers. 

But one USF group isn’t staying silent about mental illness.

On Wednesday evening, the USF chapter of Active Minds held its first meeting to introduce students to the club and issues surrounding mental health.

Club President Nevedha Duraimurgan, a junior majoring in psychology, said the national nonprofit organization is dedicated to raising mental health awareness among college students.

“Our main goal is to promote discussion behind the stigma toward mental health,” she said. “This club is about helping people realize that mental illness may be a part of them, but it doesn’t necessarily define them.”

The group’s vice president, Lee-Ann Kerster, a senior majoring in psychology, said many students don’t comprehend how common mental health problems are, especially during college years.

“Anxiety is a huge one for freshmen,” she said. “With all the changes from high school to college, the anxiety can become a bit much.”

According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, more than 11 percent of college students have been diagnosed with anxiety. But this statistic only includes those who have sought treatment.

“Sometimes (students) don’t even recognize or acknowledge it,” Kerster said. “You have to recognize it in yourself.”

Duraimurgan said she noticed some people also don’t recognize depression at first.

“A lot of people think, ‘oh, I’m just feeling sad and I’m not necessarily depressed,’” she said. “But it’s always great to talk to an expert to make sure it’s not depression.”

There are some warning signs, she said, such as extreme alternations in sleep cycles that students should be aware of.

“Some people who used to dress nicely will not take care of themselves as much,” Kerster said. “It can be a confidence-type thing.”

Duraimurgan said depression could also distract from education. 

“You want to be at your best level. You want to know how to get your overall wellness,” she said. “People don’t want to go to the doctor because they are afraid of being called crazy.”

Depression, however, does not mean a person is psychotic. It is not unusual and is widely treated.

Approximately 30 percent of college students reported depression at least once disrupting functionality, according to the American College Health Association. The study further suggested depressed students are more likely to partake in drugs, alcohol, tobacco and unsafe sex.

“Depression is like the common cold of mental illnesses,” Duraimurgan said. “But a common cold can turn into a very deadly illness if not taken care of.”

Suicidal thoughts are highest among adults ages 18 to 25, according to Emory University research, with 1 in 10 college students having made a plan for suicide at one point.

Though students in Active Minds do not claim the ability to cure anxiety or depression, Duraimurgan said they offer a message of hope.

“It’s supposed to be a safe place where anyone could share or not share what they would like,” she said. “You have to talk about the hard stuff and that’s really important.”

Students may come to meetings discuss their own experiences or things they may see a friend experiencing.

“Topics can be uncomfortable and we don’t know how to deal with them with our friends,” she said.

Kerster said the worst way of helping a friend is to call out the issue bluntly.

“It could make them feel, even if they’re already ashamed of it, more ashamed,” she said. “They can get defensive, so it’s a really sticky situation.”

Because of this, Kerster said Active Minds wouldn’t push help or try to diagnose anyone. The goal is to foster an accepting environment with connections to resources for those who decide to use them.

A session on Wednesday will focus on social anxiety and test anxiety, and a session on Sept. 10 will focus on suicide awareness and prevention. Experts from USF’s Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention and Wellness Center will listen and talk with those present.