U.Va. students do not battle mental illness alone

Professors, students discuss mental health issues in panel on Grounds

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Active Minds' mental health panel brought speakers from a variety of schools and departments within the University.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

At a time when many University students feel stressed out from adjusting their class schedules and getting back into study mode for the spring semester, Active Minds hosted a panel with professors and students in Newcomb Hall last Friday to discuss mental health. Active Minds is a nonprofit organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health on college campuses.

Zoe Hemmer, third-year college student and co-president of Active Minds, said the panel presents a great opportunity to have a dialogue between professors and students on an often avoided issue.

The perception of mental health issues changes with different generations. Pleszkoch said the stigma towards mental illness has largely decreased nowadays.

“When I was in college, [mental illnesses] were things that maybe people were able to stigmatize,” Pleszkoch said. “Now we are kind of gentler to people, the stigma has been relaxed a little bit. We are okay with diagnosing. We are okay with getting help.”

Although the stigma towards mental illness has gradually reduced, Bergey said she was worried the great pressure Univeristy students put on themselves will lead to mental illness.

“Students say when they talk to me that they feel like they need to double major, triple major, [have] two minors,” Bergey said. “It feels like in these conversations they feel like they need to fill in absolutely all their time to put things on the CVs [or] to get jobs.”

Groves agreed and said the occurrence of mental health issues among the student body changes from time to time. He noted that April tends to be the peak period of stress and depression.

“April is, without a doubt, the most intense, busy month for my office on these issues,” Groves said. “The reasons you can understand very clearly. You got people, second-years maybe, doing the major or the field of study or school they want to [be] in, fourth-years who are struggling on [a] tight job market, maybe they didn’t get into the graduate school they want … I think part of that is U.Va. is an exceptionally competitive place.”

Professors want to reach out and help students with mental issues, Hemmer said. They mentioned several places for University students to seek help, such as Counseling and Psychological Services and University of Virginia Women's Center. Johnson also noted that men are welcome at the Women’s Center.

The next step for Active Minds is to organize mental health screening on Grounds, Hemmer said. Screening will be helpful for understanding mental health of the student body and making sure they know where they can receive help.

“In this competitive environment where everyone is applying for [the] same jobs, same positions, same scholarships — it’s important to let them know that they are not alone,” Hemmer said.

The panel invited professors from various academic areas, including Allen Groves, dean of students; William Johnson, professor of material science and engineering; Meredith Bergey, visiting lecturer of sociology; Elisabeth A. Pleszkoch, assistant professor of education; Erin Berenz, clinical psychologist and assistant professor at U.Va. Hospital Pediatrics; and David Glen Mick, professor of commerce.

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