Anxiety. Depression. Mental Illness. The social stigma often associated with these words and their connotations usually evokes a level of discomfort for people unaccustomed to dealing with them, and a sense of indignity or shame for those who personally experience them.
The long and cold Wisconsin winters, heavy workload, and constant stresses of college life particularly enhance anxiety and depression in the student population. In addition to the chronic, year-round effects of anxiety or depression, another seasonally-induced mental illness can target many people, regardless of their previous experience with or without anxiety or depression.
Termed Seasonal Affective Disorder, or “SAD,” many people suffer from new or heightened levels of depression during the cold and dreary depths of winter. Lacking a sufficient amount of Vitamin D — naturally absorbed during the body’s exposure to sunlight — and experiencing increased isolation or loneliness due to cold temperatures, many people develop SAD but do not realize they have it, or do not know how to treat it.
A potential solution to those suffering from chronic anxiety, depression or SAD lies in Lawrence’s new social support group. This casual discussion group will meet over dinner every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. during Winter Term.
Said Counseling Psychology Extern Jenjee Sengkhammee, M.S., “The idea for this group is to provide a safe space for students to be involved and talk about what’s going on in their lives.” To participate in these group meetings, simply e-mail Sengkhammee beforehand and bring your dinner to the Runkel Room, where the group meets each week, which is on the fourth floor of the Warch Campus Center.
Senior Olivia Hendricks came up with the idea for this support group last year, but finally experienced its execution this term with the help of Sengkhammee and Counseling Services. Hendricks thinks that “Lawrence is really open about so many issues and there is a lot of compassion on campus and a willingness to understand peoples’ issues.”
Hendricks also stressed that this group is not going to function like a stereotypical support group. “We’re not trying to ‘fix you’ with this group,” said Hendricks. The group’s main goal is simply to locate other students who want to discuss issues in their lives and provide a support system for all people involved.
Similarly, this group also aligns with Lawrence’s campaign for mental as well as physical wellness. Said Sengkhammee, “Lawrence has this wellness model and this idea of both psychological and physical well-being.” She emphasizes that the support group follows the “idea that we’re focusing and highlighting mental health within the campus.”
Additionally, this support group will help reduce the loneliness or isolation sometimes felt by those who struggle with mental illness. Hendricks revealed, “When you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, you sometimes don’t have the motivation to seek out social situations that might actually make you better.”
This casual group will not only provide a social support system and coping process for students suffering from anxiety or depression, but also will ultimately help create gradual changes in the views of mental illness at Lawrence.
Said Sengkhammee, “My hope is that it will reduce stigma about students who struggle with mental health and wellness.” The group’s relaxed environment and accessibility to everyone on campus, not just those who suffer from anxiety or depression, may help reduce the cultural stigma surrounding mental health.
Sengkhammee and Hendricks emphasize that this group is not exclusive to students with clinically diagnosed or severe mental illness. Every Lawrence student is welcome to these group sessions, regardless of whether they need to seek out support or instead want to give support.
Through this openness to everyone on campus, Sengkhammee hopes that different perspectives within the group will change the culture. She also expressed hope that “students will be able to get support from other students without feeling that there is something wrong with them.”
Hendricks stressed, “it’s important that people realize it’s just a safe space for anyone, even if you don’t label yourself as having depression or anxiety.” She and Sengkhammee also emphasize that these group sessions are kept confidential.
“Students should recognize that if they want to talk about something that’s personal to them, it’s important to understand that other students are going to be respectful of their right to privacy,” said Sengkhammee.
If you are interested in attending the anxiety and depression counseling group, please RSVP to either Hendricks at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sengkhammee at email@example.com.