Sometimes the best way to overcome any negative feelings is simply learning how to manage them. Through the IU Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), students are allotted two free sessions per semester. CAPS also provides self-help resources to help students cope while at school.
“Students often begin to feel down, but don’t immediately fight it,” Dr. Nancy Stockton, Director of CAPS , said. “The best thing they can do is accept the feelings and nudge themselves into doing small things to make themselves feel better.” Stockton recommends eating a balanced diet, getting as much sleep as possible and exercise. “Having proper nutrition and a good night’s sleep allows patients to handle their stress and depression better,” she said.
“Recognize the signs of a panic attack coming and work on managing that stress before it gets out of control,” Stockton said. She recommends simple things designed to calm the student down, such as counting to ten, taking deep breaths, doing some kind of physical activity or listening to music.
Similar to anxiety, Stockton said students should focus on strategies to pass time to avoid doing anything impulsive. The part of the brain involved with emotions and impulse control, the frontal lobe, is not fully developed until age 25. “Catch yourself before the explosion starts by doing small things like taking a walk or counting to three before responding,” she said.
Stockton said as part of a research experiment, students were asked to participate in gratitude exercises. “It was all about learning to be grateful and focus on the positive things in the patient’s life rather than the negatives,” she said. “I’ve started to encourage current patients to adopt this exercise in everyday life.”
However, Stockton said students should not hesitate to reach out to CAPS professionals. CAPS-Now allows students to be seen within 48 hours of contacting CAPS for a 30-minute assessment. Appointments may be scheduled with a CAPS counselor at 812-855-5711.
In addition to counseling sessions, CAPS also offers free workshops with topics ranging from relaxation techniques, thinking happily and learning to reduce anxiety and negative emotional states.
“If thinking patterns are routinely negative, it might be good to start thinking about how to learn more techniques to manage whatever is bothering the student, or to speak with a counselor,” Stockton said.
Dr. Joanna Chambers, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in IU School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, said finding the right doctor and feeling comfortable sharing and being honest is the most integral when undergoing treatment.
However, for some, therapy and counseling are not enough.
“It is always the patient’s decision whether or not to go on medication, or if he or she finds useful,” she said. “I see my job as an educator, to explain how the medication can help, as well as the risks and side effects.”
For Chambers, part of this education includes combating the stigma associated with taking medication for mental illnesses.
“Stigmas come about when people aren’t educated about the topic, which is certainly true when it comes to mental health,” she said. “Patients should not make the decision about how to pursue treatment based on non-facts like stigmas and fears not grounded in real evidence.”
Chambers said the process of receiving treatment varies greatly on the patient’s diagnosis, symptoms and history. She said she often tries to use medication’s side effects to the patient’s advantage.
“Typically patients with depression or anxiety have trouble sleeping and don’t eat as often as they should, so a medication with a drowsy effect for example can actually help the patient recover,” she said.
However, Chambers said the primary goal of the medication is to treat the patient’s specific symptoms as directly as possible.
“Depression and anxiety, and really all mental illnesses, limits the patient’s perspective on their problems and their outlooks on them,” she said. “The medication dampens down the symptoms and patients begin to see their problems as more manageable.”
Chambers said medication often takes up to eight weeks to be therapeutic, which can often feel frustrating for patients.
“I always tell patients not to underestimate the power of therapy,” she said. “Medication is good, but both together is more effective than either one alone, and trying to get better with only medication can be challenging.”