It’s no secret that college students often struggle with mental health, with more than 60% of students meeting criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to the American Psychological Association.
The Johnson City Press spoke with students from East Tennessee State University and Milligan University to get an inside look at their mental health experiences in college. The students’ names have been changed in order to protect their privacy.
A senior at Milligan, Emily identified herself to be in good mental health considering the expected stressors that come with being an international student athlete. She even attributes being an athlete to having an overall positive impact on her mental health.
“I think it positively affects my mental health because I am kept busy. I enjoy the stress relief aspect of sport along with the sense of belonging,” she said. “There are times when I may be negatively impacted by being an athlete such as the lack of free time and stress, but overall I would say I am positively affected by sport.”
Andrew, a junior at ETSU, is also a student athlete. He echoed Smith’s sentiment.
“For me, having school during the day and after that you go to practice your sport, it is actually a relief of stress and pressure,” he said. “I have always been an active child, so I love sports. I always enjoy it. Exercising your body often is good for mental health too.”
Sam, a junior at Milligan, said he’s in good mental health, attributing participating in his sport to helping him keep a good life balance.
Alternatively, Willis, a junior at ETSU, admitted to struggling with his mental health, saying it has been continuously getting worse over the years.
While each student agreed to discuss their mental health in an interview under the premise of anonymity, they vary in their comfort levels when it comes to discussing their mental health with peers. Emily and Sam are more open to the conversation, while Andrew and Willis prefer not to discuss it.
“I would be most comfortable discussing my mental health with my friends,” Emily said. “My parents didn’t talk about mental health, so it wasn’t something I was ever comfortable discussing with them.”
Sam agreed, although he stated he would reach out to his parents if needed.
Both ETSU students prefer not to discuss their mental health at all, although Andrew hinted he may be more open with some.
“I really do not feel comfortable talking about my mental health to my friends unless we are very close,” he said. “I do not want people to know about my mental health.”
All of the students said they were aware of at least some of the mental health services their schools provide, although none cited any personal experience with the programs. However, they feel improvements could be made.
Good mental health in their childhood was a common denominator in the group, with their main stressors being striving to meet others’ expectation, sports, school or family matters. Sam admitted to facing some more difficult struggles over the years as well.
“Bad things have happened, which have thrown me off for a bit,” Sam said. “But I guess I always find myself.”
Both Emily and Andrew admitted that being in another country, away from friends and family, and the changes in lifestyle from home to school, have increased stress. Despite this, both students remain relatively positive and even shared some words of encouragement for those who may be struggling.
“Stay hopeful, surround yourself with good people and stay involved with things you enjoy,” Emily said.
Andrew offered a more laid-back approach to handling mental health issues.
“Just let life come to you and enjoy the process,” he said.
Both ETSU and Milligan offer counseling and mental health services on campus. ETSU’s counseling center can be reached at (423) 439-3333, or the BucsPress2 24/7 hotline is available at (423) 439-4841. Press 2 to speak to a counselor.
Sarah Owens is a recent graduate of Milligan University and a native of Alabaster, Ala.. She earned a bachelors degree in communications. She has a passion for traveling and animals and an interest in international cultures.