Students open discussion on mental health

Angel Ann Semrick, a sophomore from Woodburn, has struggled with an anxiety disorder throughout her time at WKU. When she has gone to the university for counseling and other resources, she feels that they have been lacking. “I wasn’t really taken very seriously there,” Semrick explained. “They didn’t really have the right resources.” She has turned to non-university counseling for help to manage her life full of two jobs, full-time classes and her Alpha Delta Pi sorority. Gabriel Scarlett/HERALD

Julia Adams

Starting back to school after summer break can be both exciting and nerve-wracking –– starting new classes, seeing old friends and getting one step closer to graduation. For some students, however, the beginning of the school year is exceptionally difficult to deal with.

Thirteen percent of college students have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other mental health condition, according to Learn Psychology’s Student Guide to “Surviving Stress and Anxiety in College & Beyond.”

This information presents many questions: How do students cope with the anxiety and depression they feel while attending college? How can students seek help?

Woodburn sophomore Angel Ann Semrick takes Honors classes, is a member of Hilltoppers for Christ and the International Justice Mission. She’s also a member of Alpha Delta Pi, works 30 hours a week and has 18 hours of class. Semrick said she has experienced serious stresses from taking on so many activities.

Semrick suffers from an anxiety disorder requiring her to take medication. She has noticed she responds to stress by having panic attacks or “shutting down completely.”

“College makes self-care more difficult because I have no time to focus on it,” she said.

Semrick has several of her own methods for coping with anxiety.

“Medication is useful, but it depends on the person who is taking it,” she said. “It just depends on how severe it is. Don’t go to it just because you feel stressed.”

Semrick believes college causes so much stress because there are so many new responsibilities to take on.

“I work more and my professors expect more out of me,” Semrick said. “Everything is on my terms.”

When Semrick is anxious, she takes deep breaths, prays and tries to stay organized by keeping a to-do list and a planner.

“Resources can be as simple as talking to someone you know: a friend,” she said. “There are websites with resources. Just say you need help.”

Semrick often reminds herself that most things are temporary.

“This too shall pass,” she said. “Anxiety won’t last forever. Stress won’t last forever. You’re okay. It’s okay.”

Semrick believes there needs to be a more open discussion about mental illness on campus. She wants people to know that there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re stressed or anxious.

“It’s not a weakness. It’s just like a physical illness. It’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to ask for help.”

Corbin sophomore Annika Smith has faced similar issues throughout her time on campus.

“I have no time to get what needs to be done done because I work and go to school,” she said.

Smith enjoys both physical and creative hobbies when faced with stress, including running, drawing and cooking.

“If I’m having a really bad day, I’ll stay at home and relax because I know I need to.”

Smith said she has had first-hand experience with the WKU Counseling and Testing Center, a service to support students as they are being challenged, according to its website.

“We have a really great counseling program that everyone who struggles with anxiety should take advantage of,” she said, also saying she wished people were more aware of what the center offers to students.

“It needs more visibility,” Smith said. “A lot of people think it’s a last resort.”

Anyone who feels stressed or is dealing with any kind of mental illness can go to the counseling center; it’s an open resource for all students.

Smith said she would tell people struggling with mental illness that having their anxiety taken care of is much better than not seeking help. There’s nothing wrong with taking medicine, she added.

“It’s not a choice to be anxious or depressed,” Smith explained. “It’s a weird feeling that comes into your life uninvited.”

The Counseling and Testing Center is located in room 409 of Potter Hall and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Reporter Julia Adams can be reached at 270-996-2106 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaSkyeAdams.