Feeling Isolated on campus, stressing over school, students talk mental health

Laura Lothrop

The loneliness of a repetitive routine, mixed with crippling isolation in the form of rain, hits Seattle Pacific students all at once during winter quarter.

Directly correlated to this is the slowing of motivation and other exterior circumstances in life which affects people’s mental health on campus.

Isolation from activities once cherished and regularly practiced seem to be the biggest reason students are having to fight off loneliness.

When asked about stress, first-year Annie Corneille said, “It gets a little bit worse during school, but it’s manageable.”

Living on campus, Cornielle said, gives her the feeling that she never gets a break from school. Constantly moving between class and her dorm, she explained that the stress of homework never seems to go away.

Sharon Barr-Jeffrey, the assistant director of SPU’s counseling center, said that its office has seen an average of 610 individual students each year for the last five years. The top three reasons students come are for stress and anxiety as one, with the second highest being relationship problems. “That could be with family members or non-family relationships,” she explained.

Finally, the third reason students come in is for depression.
Barr-Jeffrey said that those three categories make sense with the type of demand in the environment of rigorous academics in which these students are experiencing.

“This is a really demanding time in life, and it is stressful. And the way I think about anxiety that most college students experience is situational,” she said.

Sophomore and SMC of second East in Ashton, Naomi Kim, on the other hand, says that her mental health during the school year is actually better than it is in the summertime.

“When I go home, and I’m not being productive, I feel a lot more sluggish and less motivated to do things,” Kim said. “The lack of routine, when I’m home, is really hard for me to handle because I really like being busy.”

Kim, however, has a positive outlook on school, as it allows her to be focused, keep a goal in mind, and take charge of each new day.

“During the school year I feel much more positive, but also more stressed.

“The business and the stress of homework and grades doesn’t outweigh how much better I feel when I have things to do, and having people around me,” she explained.

Kim said that her mood does change during the winter months, and to an extreme degree that shuts her inside all day.

Barr-Jeffrey said that students who come in looking to get help or guidance immediately have an appointment set up where they can decompress and verbalize whatever struggles they are going through in their life currently.

She said that for students who feel discouraged or isolated on campus, that it is okay. She said that most students she talks to say that their best friendships end up coming full circle around their junior year. True friendships and a sense of belonging take time.

“It’s a process of getting to know people, deciding your major, becoming involved in clubs and organizations, leaderships roles; it just takes time,” Barr-Jeffrey said.

For Kim, the weather does have an effect on her mood, commenting on the surplus of grey days and even though she likes rain, there is something about the sun being outside that makes her feel “more productive and awake.”

Seasonal affective disorder is not its own category. Barr-Jeffrey shared that seasonal depression actually falls under depression if one has an existing condition of depression.

“Its not its own category anymore, but it is if you have that predisposition. These dark months and rainy weather can aggravate it, or exacerbate that pre-existing depression,” she described.

So in terms of the diagnostic community, seasonal depression does not qualify as a primary diagnosis, but a qualifier of a depressive diagnosis.

This is why vitamin D is important for people in the Pacific Northwest. The lack of sunlight, and light in general during this time of year, mimics depression.

“Noticing it the past two years, I tend to feel less motivated to get up in the mornings because the sun rises later, and just generally more tired throughout the day because of how dark it is in the morning,” Kim said, aware of the effects that the weather has on her day to day mood.

“When I don’t have time doing things that I enjoy doing outside of school work.

“For me, playing sports is a huge form of self care. If I don’t do that, I just feel sad, because it was such a huge part of my life.”
From the expertise of the counseling center, Barr-Jeffrey says that SPU’s offices see their highest number of walk-ins each quarter during midterms.

“Stress is higher. You’re in the thick of the quarter, and it’s not right near the end so you can’t say, ‘I just gotta get through it, and then I’ll go home,’” she said.

Of all three quarters, walk-ins are most heavily used in the fall. The average for walk-ins during fall quarter is 80 to 90 students, with winter quarter actually being the lowest at 60 to 70 drop-ins on average.

Fall quarter sees the highest number of students, because it is the start of a new school year and the newness of a different school, city, and wide variety of people; all of which can be very stressful along with a new workload.

This is why sleep should be a top priority for all levels of college students, along with basic self-care and time set aside to do the things we love to destress, according to the Counseling Center.

A lack of sleep also mimics depression, says Barr-Jeffrey.

“Sleep deprivation shows up during the day time, exactly like depression, and its very hard to differentiate the two,” she said. “If your sleep is off, which for many college students it is, that creates sleep deprivation, and what does sleep deprivation feel like? Depression.”

Barr-Jeffrey also said that staying up late and pushing through an assignment isn’t always the best thing for our brains, when the most immediate thing they need, is rest.

“You’re better off going to bed early, and setting the alarm early and working in the morning because it’ll take you twice as long, and your brain is less effective at writing a paper, or if you’re reading, you actually won’t remember what you read.”

Another fact that might shock most students comes from Barr-Jeffrey: “In order to commit information to long term memory you have to have six hours of sleep.”

To combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, Kim turns to art. Creativity is massively important to her strategy for staying alive and passionate during times when she finds herself falling into the routine of school.

“When I don’t have a chance to do art, it is also sad, and I feel like creativity is one of those things, where you use it or you lose it.
And the less creative things that I am doing, the less creative I feel,” she explained. “And so it’s kind of like this downward spiral.”

Living on campus, or commuting each day, has a big impact on students social lives and their ability to be plugged into the schools community.

Barr-Jeffrey said, “I think for the on-campus group — its traditionally freshmen and sophomores — and I think for them it’s about the expectations versus the reality. That sense of ‘I’m gonna go to college, and I’m gonna feel so different than I did in high school,’ and maybe even having high expectations like it’s all going to be great, and yet its a big change and adjustment, and maybe it doesn’t match the dream.”

Barr-Jeffrey said that college often comes with more challenges than people anticipate and that living in Seattle or simply away from home adds additional stressors.

“When people experience a higher level of anxiety or depression after a big change in their life, it’s called an adjustment disorder,” she said.

Sharon said that everyone will have adjustment disorder at some time in their life because everyone goes through changes.
Some, like Corneille, shared that there also needs to be a proper amount of balance between socializing and quality alone time, to maintain one’s mental health. Corneille, as a self-proclaimed introvert, she enjoys her time alone.

She does note that at Moyer, she finds a happy support system that she has come to be familiar with and appreciate.

“It’s really small, so I’ve been able to get to know a lot of people, and I feel like it’s kind of a nice tight knit community,” she said.

“It’s fun having all my best friends live with me and across from me”
Sharon Barr-Jeffrey said that most students feel isolated and down on themselves because of high expectations

“For the people that feel isolated, they make not be talking about the difficulty they’re having because they feel like the should be doing better, or ‘look, everyone else is fine, what’s wrong with me.’ So they stay quiet, and that actually exasperates the low feeling,” she explained.

Barr-Jeffrey expressed that students who come in and open up about their anxieties will have an easier time fixing them right away.

“Just coming and talking with someone who is understanding and non-judgmental — that can be really helpful. Just by normalizing and opening up about what’s going on, they can already start to feel less isolated,” she said.

Corneille then went on to say that she was close with her RA and roommate and that she had people around her that she could call on if she was ever lonely, etc.

“I feel like if I’m ever isolated its my own doing, because it’s not, well, there are people around me that support me,” she continued.
Socializing, crafting, doing things that make the body and mind feel charged, and remembering to take breaks from it all, these are some of the things that residents from Moyer, Hill and Ashton all said are a good way to keep a positive mood.

When it comes to realizing one’s own weaknesses and asking for help, Barr-Jeffrey said that 50 percent of students who come to the counseling center are looking to receive full treatment there. Full treatment looks like counseling and getting prescribed for medication to combat anxiety, depression or any other disorder.

The other half of students prefer only to begin with counseling and touch base with someone to work through their concerns.

Talking about school, adjustments to a new area and school, and maybe even issues with family or friends can help students significantly, even if it is just for a couple of sessions.

However, Kim says that she doesn’t always have time to destress in the ways that she wants because she knows she could be using her time to get ahead in a class or study for an exam.

But not having time for those brief moments where you can let your brain stop working has an effect on the motivation, she says.

“All of those extra, relaxing things are hard to fit in and they take a lot of effort to fit into your schedule, so you have to be really diligent about that,” she added.

To her, staying on top of things is always a good idea.

Advice from the counseling center says that citing changes from quarter to quarter, and new challenges that come with adjusting to different classes and higher levels of expectation each year have a huge factor in students stress levels.

“You’re housing might change. If you’re working part-time and doing internships, your part-time work changes, and so it’s stressful for humans to adjust to all the newness and change and then also wanting to do well,” Barr-Jeffrey said.

Students at SPU need to know that their feelings of loneliness and isolation could be caused by a series of multiple factors. Moving away from home, adjusting to a new city and setting within a university and discovery what it is that they truly feel passionate about; it all takes time.

“Its normal to adjust and have an adjustment period; that’s not easy,” Barr-Jeffrey said. “Keep an open mind and try things. In terms of campus involvement, the more you’re involved, the more at home you’ll feel.”

Barr-Jeffrey also emphasized that the counseling center just wants students to know that each individual problem or worry that they have on their mind is worth making an appointment for. There is no issue related to a student that is too small to come in and talk about.