Tuesday, November 14, 2023

As finals week draws closer, some students may need more support in maintaining their mental health. Students face difficulties in the fall semester due to shorter days, transitions, and other mental health struggles. I spoke with director of outreach and prevention for University Counseling Service, Dr. Kelly Clougher, about these five tips to help students maintain their mental health. 

Don’t be afraid to seek help

Reaching out to others for help is often the hardest part of getting better. Sometimes the first step is just talking to a family member, friend, R.A., or a professor. Student Health offers evaluations, medication management, and treatments for mental health issues like ADHD, OCD, mood disorders, and eating disorders. Student Wellness provides one-on-one appointments with experts who can assist with addiction, sleep problems, nutrition, fitness, tobacco, e-cigarette use, and overall well-being. Other resources for students are University Counseling Service, the UI Support and Crisis Line, Student Care and Assistance, and others that can be found at mentalhealth.uiowa.edu. “There is really no shortage of resources for students,” says Dr. Clougher.

Reactive vs. proactive thoughts

Students are busy, and often wait until the last possible moment to address their mental health concerns. Instead of waiting until you are overwhelmed, find a proactive habit that supports your mental health daily. Even on good days, be mindful of emotions, energy levels, and tasks you need to complete. This will take the load and stress off of the hard days, and allow you to draw on your energy reserves for when times become more challenging.

Attend a mental health skills workshop

Participating in a skills-based workshop is a great way to learn how to maintain mental health. These psychoeducational programs are meant to teach students about healthy coping skills and connect them with a community who faces similar issues.

  • "Getting Unstuck" is a workshop for Iowa students who want to improve their depression management skills.
  • “Anxiety Toolbox” is a three-week workshop that teaches students coping skills for their anxiety.
  • ACCESS Workshop supports students with chronic health issues to understand their diagnosis, advocate for themselves, and practice self-care.
  • "Success, Not Excess" is a support group for students struggling with substance abuse. It provides a pressure-free environment for them to learn from shared experiences.
  • The ADHD support group is for students with ADHD and it provides resources, advice, and guidance on managing ADHD and navigating college with ADHD. No formal diagnosis is required for attendance.
  • More information can be found about some of these groups on this site, or by calling UCS at 319-335-7294.

Take it one day at time

When having a hard day, instead of saying “I have anxiety,” say “Today has been a stressful day, and I’m really feeling that," says Clougher. “Everyone has hard days. But one is a hard day, and the other is an issue that lasts days or weeks on end,” she adds. Mental health disorders are very different from bad days, and it's good to refrain from labeling yourself with one specific disorder when you might be just having a bad day. 

Know you’re not alone

In the spring of 2023, 55.6% of UI undergraduates reported having received at least some form of mental health treatment in their lives. 65% of students reported living a meaningful life and 66.1% reported being optimistic about their futures. It is more common to have mental health issues than it might feel.

It can be isolating and scary to struggle with academic stress, but many other students feel the same way you do. The University of Iowa has large student body with unique struggles; knowing that you are surrounded by a very resilient student body can be motivating. “That capability to move forward makes a successful student,” says Dr. Clougher.