Every year, September commemorates National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. As the month comes to a close, it is important for the Concordia community to be reminded of the mental health resources available both on and off campus.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, three-quarters of all chronic mental illness begin before the age of 24. Holly Hegstad, a clinical psychologist at Knowlton, O’Neil & Associates, P.C. in Fargo, explained that college students are at an increased risk for developing mental illnesses.

“Depression and anxiety are especially common among college students and are known to significantly affect academic and social adjustments in major ways that can undermine student performance and retention,” she said.

Megan Degenstein, a mental health counselor in Concordia’s Counseling Center, explained that this increase can be attributed to the adjustments and added stressors that college students face.

“College is a stressful time. It’s a huge transitional time, and anytime we’re dealing with transitioning, everyone gets stressed,” she said. “For some people, though, it hits a lot harder—whether you have a history with mental illness or not. The fact that [students] are under this extreme stress of change makes it more likely that they need support; that adds to the Counseling Center’s purpose and importance.”

Degenstein works in the Counseling Center with counseling psychologist Dr. Juihsien H. Kao, director Matthew Rutten, and administrative assistant Erika Tomten. According to an email sent to all Concordia students on Sept. 19, the Counseling Center is generally able to see students within one week of requesting an appointment, and often even more quickly. They are also always available during business hours to meet with students in crisis.

“I’m a licensed professional counselor, and Dr. Juihsien Kao is a licensed psychologist, so both of us have a pretty extensive training that allows us to work with a wide variety of issues. There’s a lot of ways to approach it, and we try to tailor that to what works best for the student, and of course based on empirical research and that kind of thing,” Degenstein said.

If the Counseling Center is not able to meet the needs of a student, Degenstein said that they are able to make referrals to off-campus resources.

“We are always willing to help students get connected off-campus,” Degenstein said. “If someone doesn’t know how to go about that process—and that’s not uncommon—we’re happy to help them make the phone call, or talk to them about what to expect. So, if we can’t help them, we can help them get to something they’re looking for.”
Along with recognizing a need, education is an important component of addressing mental health issues. According to Hegstad, students need to know the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, what treatments are available, and where to access them.

“I think it is important to continue to address the stigma of mental illness, and make accessing these services something people do to maintain health and wellness, and to view this as the positive thing that it is,” she said.

Another on-campus resource Concordia students can use is Active Minds, a student organization aimed towards educating Concordia’s community about the mental health needs around them. Mikayla Clements, Active Minds’ vice president, explained that one of the organization’s main goals is to destigmatize mental illness.

“We want to promote mental wellbeing around campus, whether that’s just to destress, if you are struggling with depression, or you’re struggling with something more and need accommodation. That’s what we’re here for,” Clements said.”

Clements thinks that mental health awareness needs to be facilitated on campus, explaining that as another one of Active Minds’ biggest goals.

“We’re trying to make it a conversation; making it a norm that it’s okay to go to the Counseling Center just because you’re stressed out, or because you are depressed, or because you just feel off,” she said. “Just knowing there are also resources available within the community, [or] knowing there’s a group on campus, that you’re struggling with something, there’s someone who can point you to the right resources.”

Active Minds is responsible for the monthly Mental Health Mondays tabling in the Knutson Campus Center Atrium geared towards mental health education and awareness, as well as last year’s tabling for Mental Health Awareness Week. This year, Mental Health Awareness Week falls on Nov. 6-10.

Degenstein believes that hearing students speak up about mental illness through organizations like Active Minds may encourage more students to seek the help that they need.

“Students need that. They just need to know it’s okay to come and see us . They don’t have to have anxiety or depression; it can just be, ‘I’m having a roommate issue and I don’t know how to be assertive about it,’ or, ‘I feel really homesick.’ It can be anything,” she said. “People are becoming more comfortable acknowledging they need help. With that greater number of people saying they need help, our resources are needed even more.”

The Concordia Counseling Center can be reached by phone at 218-299-3514 or in their office at Academy 106.