By Kristen Carmen
At the session “Addressing College Student Health and Well-Being: What Senior Leaders Need to Know,” five panelists discussed the biology, sociology, and history behind mental health on campuses.
Frances Elizabeth Jensen, chair and professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine spoke of the biological background of student mental health. As she described, the frontal lobe controls the behavior, learning, personality, and voluntary movement.and is not fully formed until the age of 26. So between the ages of 18-26, individuals are highly susceptible to change and to experiencing mental illness. Other changes at this time include addiction, increased emotionality to routine events, and poor decision-making.
These changes just so happen to coincide with college years, she pointed out, calling it “the college brain.” She described a balancing act—the brain has the amazing ability to learn and change IQ, but also form addictive behaviors.
Anelle Primm, senior medical advisor for The Steve Fund, identified risks in students of color. They are more likely than their white peers to feel overwhelmed most of the time, and 75 percent of them report keeping feelings of mental difficulties to themselves.
What might account for some of these differences? Microaggressions, hate crimes, discrimination, imposter phenomenon, stereotype threats, isolation, marginalization, or acculturation stress. What sorts of impact do these challenges pose? Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. There are also barriers that keep students of color from seeking help, like stigma and shame.
Other speakers focused on resources for students and administrators trying to provide more mental health services for students.
Ben Locke, senior director for Counseling & Psychological Services and executive director of Center for Collegiate Mental Health, spoke of the changes in student mental health over the past several years. He gave advice to the audience on how to adjust messaging on mental health.