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University reports of mental health issues increase

While mental health has always been an issue on college campuses, University officials say the number of reported incidents is on the rise.

Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said mental health issues are being reported more frequently than in the past, but that the number of reported cases doesn’t necessarily mean the issues are becoming more prevalent.

Sauls attributed the rise in part to an increasingly open culture surrounding treatment of mental illness.

“People are now coming to campus with more preparations for their mental health,” he said. “These therapies are helping people come to college that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.”

“We don’t want people to think of these issues as stigmas,” Sauls added.

The issue of mental health most recently surfaced at the University with the death of graduate student Hana Staub, who committed suicide two weeks ago.

Her father, Jacob Staub, said last week that his family did not want to hide his daughter’s suicide.

“It has become an epidemic,” he said.

Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs, said deaths like Staub’s are the University’s major worry in the realm of mental health.

“This is ultimately what we are trying to avoid,” Crisp said.

In a 2010 report from the National College Health Assessment, in which 78 percent of UNC students participated, 21.4 percent of participants said they felt so depressed within the last year that it was difficult to function.

Eighty-nine percent said they felt a tremendous amount of stress, while 4.8 percent said they have seriously considered suicide.

Sauls said the onset of major physical changes between the ages of 18 and 25 could be a major factor in the prevalence of mental health issues among college students.

Both Crisp and Sauls said they have seen students turn to drugs and alcohol as a type of self-medication.

“They are the most immediate solution to stress,” said Allen O’Barr, director of Counseling and Wellness Services.

“We need a change in the culture of how people deal with stress.”

Crisp said he does not want students’ desire to be academically successful to have negative effects on their health.

The University offers several resources for students who feel overwhelmed, including the Learning Center, the Writing Center, the dean of students office and drug and alcohol treatment centers, O’Barr said.

In April, then-freshman Quinn Matney burned himself on the wrist but told friends he had been the victim of a hate crime, his father said.

Following Matney’s admission that the injury was self-inflicted, officials from the Department of Public Safety took him to Counseling and Wellness Services, his father said.

O’Barr said his office refers about 25 percent of students to outside help centers, while treating the other 75 percent itself.

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Sauls said a policy of one-size-fits-all does not work at a university, and that students need multiple resources to help with every type of problem.

Contact the University editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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