Wake Forest University Hosts Conference on Student Mental Health Issues

College students are struggling with depression, anxiety and eating disorders more than ever before, and mental health professionals are looking for solutions to this increasingly problematic trend among many of the nation’s college students.

At a forum being held April 7 at Wake Forest University, called “College of the Overwhelmed: Facing Facts, Finding Solutions,” higher education professionals will discuss why college students are suffering and what the higher education community can do to help them cope with stress.

Richard Kadison, author of the book College of the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do about It, will be the keynote speaker at the conference, which is part of Wake Forest’s “Voices of Our Times” lecture series. Kadison will be joined in a panel discussion by the directors of the counseling centers at the University of Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Drs. Russ Federman and Christopher Flynn, respectively. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Samuel T. Gladding, the chair of the department of counseling at Wake Forest University.

Gladding hopes the conference will help to “develop strategies for faculty, staff and students to promote better mental health and better learning.” Uncertainty about what lies ahead after college and the pressures of performing well in school are issues that create anxiety among students, he says.

“When students are not doing well it spirals, causing anxiety, depression and binge drinking which makes things worse,” Gladding says. While the majority of students are able to cope with the pressures of college, about a third of students are struggling, he adds.

Dr. Marianne Schubert, director of the Wake Forest University Counseling Center and an organizer of the conference, says academic performance may not always be the catalyst for a mental health crisis but rather the result of one. “Sometimes the problems aren’t initially academic but they manifest in the form of poor grades, low class attendance, etc.,” she says.

“Dr. Kadison’s book is a good start for bringing these issues out into the open,” she says. While students may be prepared to handle the academic rigors of college, many of them are ill equipped to handle the mental challenges of college life.

“Students are much more active and busy than they used to be,” Schubert says. “They don’t have a lot of time for reflection, to ask the question ‘What’s important to me?’”

Today’s students lack resilience because of increased parental involvement at a later age, she says. As an example, Schubert says universities are seeing more parents calling the director of resident life to work out roommate issues on behalf of their child rather than pushing them to learn to deal with the problem on their own. “With cell phones and instant messaging, the things that students would have had to deal with on their own in the past, they can now instantly access other people to help them cope,” she says.

Gladding and Schubert say they hope to have a spirited discussion about mental health issues affecting today’s college students as well as increase awareness and find solutions to these issues. “This is a task for all of us,” Schubert says.

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