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Staying Safe from Stress, Depression and Other Mental Health Concerns
The Virginia Tech shootings put a spotlight on mental health issues on campus.

While the severe problems of the student shooter and the shootings themselves are extremely rare, students on college campuses, including UWM, can face ongoing stress, depression and mental health issues that can impact themselves and others.

Problems can stem from academics, jobs, financial issues, illness, family problems or pressures, relationships, drug or alcohol problems, and many other causes. The pressures of multiple commitments impact many UWM students, with 76.4 percent working for pay and 42 percent working more than 20 hours a week.

The primary resource for students who are feeling overwhelmed is the counseling service offered through UWM's Norris Health Center (414-229-4632). The Center can offer referrals to numerous other agencies, as needed.

Norris Health Center also lists resources and brochures on recognizing signs of stress and depression in yourself and others, and options for getting help. See the "mental health" tab on the Center's Web site. In addition, a closer look at UWM's process to help people who may not come forward on their own is one discussion on the planning table as part of the S.A.F.E. Campus campaign.

Here are a few tips from Norris Health Center materials for recognizing and dealing with stress, depression and other mental health concerns.

StressIn a 2005 survey of UWM students, 34 percent reported that stress affected their academic performance. Stress may be ongoing or related to specific situations. While it's impossible to live totally stress-free, it is possible to manage stress. It's also important to minimize the impact of excessive stress, which can cause health problems over the long term.

Visit Norris Health Center's Web site for more detailed descriptions of the relaxation techniques as well as links to audio files that can help you use some of the techniques.

  • Try progressive relaxation which involves systematically tensing and releasing all the muscle groups of the body.
  • Deep breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing).
  • Meditation or guided visualization, which both serve to calm the mind and take a break from stress-inducing thoughts.
  • Yoga, taking a walk or other gentle exercise.
  • The health center also offers a number of stress relief services.
  • The Norris Peer Health Advocates can come to your residence hall, student group or event and give free 10-minute hand massages while distributing information about stress management techniques. Contact Laura Anne Stuart, advisor to the Peer Health Advocates, at stuartl@uwm.edu or 414-229-2919 to schedule a hand massage event.
  • Students can make a free 30-minute appointment with a health educator at Norris to develop an individualized plan for managing stress. Call 414-229-4716 to schedule an appointment.
  • If you are a student and are experiencing ongoing stress or have experienced a life event or crisis that has increased stress in your life, you can get free short-term individual counseling from the Norris Counseling and Consultation Services staff. To make an appointment, call 414-229-4716.

Life is full of ups and downs. It's normal to become depressed when life throws some negative curve balls at you… your significant other dumps you, you're desperately struggling with calculus, you're homesick, you're having trouble meeting people on campus.

However, when depression begins to affect your ability to function, it's time to seek help. With academic and social pressures coming at a time when your life is changing, it's not unusual to have difficulty coping. Adding excessive alcohol or drug use into the mix may make matters worse. An NCHA (National College Health Association) survey in 2006 found that 42.2 percent of college students felt so depressed in the previous 12 months that they found it difficult to function.

Here are some signs and symptoms of depression to watch for in yourself and your friends.

  • Persistent sad, empty or anxious mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Insomnia, awaking early, or oversleeping
  • Decreased energy, fatigue; being "slowed down"
  • Appetite and/or weight loss
  • Overeating and/or weight gain
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities once enjoyed, including sex and school
  • Inconsistent class attendance
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering
  • Persistent physical issues non-responsive to treatment (headaches, digestive disorders, chronic pain)
  • Thoughts of death/suicide, suicide attempts

SuicideSuicide is the third leading cause of death among college-age Americans (behind accidents and homicides), and ten percent of those responding to an American College Health Association survey said they'd "seriously considered" suicide. Many of those who attempt suicide give warning signs and are responsive to offers of help.

Emotional warning signs
  • Crying spells
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Increased social isolation
  • Low energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Apathy
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Poor self care
  • Not showering/dirty clothing
  • Irritability and mood swings

Verbal warning signs
  • "I just feel like I am in the way all the time."
  • "I'm not the person I used to be."
  • "Life has lost its meaning for me."
  • "My family would be better off without me."
  • "Take this, I won't be needing it."
  • "I don't have the strength to go on any longer."
  • "You won't be seeing me around anymore."
  • "I wish I were dead."
  • "I am getting out."
  • "If _____ happens or doesn't happen, I am going to kill myself."
  • "_____ was the last straw."
  • "I'm going to kill myself."

Behavioral warning signs
  • Poor adjustment to the loss of loved one
  • Crying spells without external triggers
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Change in eating behaviors; e.g., overeating or loss of appetite
  • Any unexplained change in typical behavior (change in grades, increased aggression, drug use, mood changes, social withdrawal, acting out sexually)
  • Becoming disorganized, loss of reality contact
  • Resigning from social groups, activities
  • Not attending classes
  • Sudden, unexplained recovery from a severe depression
  • Giving away valued possessions
  • Putting personal affairs in order
  • A previous attempted suicide; particularly a recent or highly lethal attempt
  • Procuring means: buying a gun, asking for sedatives, etc.
  • Composing a suicide note
  • Substance abuse

How you can helpIf you're the one feeling overwhelmed by stress or depression, phone or stop by the Norris Health Center to make an appointment. If you feel the situation is a crisis, the Center offers brief emergency screenings daily between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. with a crisis counselor or member of the counseling staff.

If you see a friend or roommate is struggling, here are suggestions for helping.

  • Express your concerns openly and clearly.
  • Encourage the friend or fellow student to seek help, suggesting Norris Health Center or other resources (See below-OR ADD A LINK TO INFO.
  • Encourage the student/friend to discuss how he/she is feeling.
  • If the person doesn't respond immediately, know when to back off.
  • Follow up to see if the friend or fellow student has taken any action.
  • If the situation moves beyond the point where you think you can help, encourage the person to seek trained counseling. Or, contact a counselor yourself for guidance on handling the situation.

Resources for intervention, consultation and referral
Norris Health Center
Hours: Monday - Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Friday: 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

University Police
Emergency: 9-911 (campus phone)
414-229-9911 (cell phone)
Non-emergency: 414-229-4627

Milwaukee County Crisis Line (24/7)

Milwaukee County Crisis Center