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Addressing Mental Wellness and Social Anxiety With Counseling Director Carrie Brown (Podcast)
Moving away from home and embarking on your Syracuse University journey can be a difficult time as students leave behind their families and friends and start a new chapter in their lives.
On top of that, a recent report from the annual Healthy Minds Study shows that rates of social anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts among U.S.-based college students are at an all-time high, with 44% of students reporting symptoms of depression, 37% reporting anxiety disorders and 15% reporting seriously considering suicide in the past year, the highest recorded rates in the 15-year history of the survey.
There was some positive data to come out of the survey of more than 96,000 students: the number of college students receiving therapy or counseling rose from 30% to 37% in the last year, the highest recorded rates.
The mental health and well-being of Syracuse’s students is a top priority for Carrie Brown, the counseling director at the Barnes Center at The Arch who also serves on the Sexual and Relationship Violence Response Team.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in social anxiety. Students are saying the number one thing they’re worried about is how other people perceive them. When we think of social anxiety, sometimes we think of people being introverted, and certainly that can be a part of it,” Brown says. “But what was really interesting is our students are more worried about how their peers perceive them. Social media plays a role in that. There’s this expectation that everybody is living an extraordinary life and everybody is doing everything the right way and looks great all the time. I think that distorts the reality. Most of us just want to connect with people and be happy.”
On this “‘Cuse Conversation,” Brown explores the topics of social anxiety, mental wellness, making new friends and finding community on campus.
Brown discusses the University’s integrated health and wellness model for addressing mental health concerns, shares how the University focuses on a student’s holistic development while remaining empathetic to their concerns, offers up tips for finding community and shares common mistakes students make when trying to make friends and develop their social circle.
01What role does a student's wellness play in their holistic development once they're here on campus?
When we use the term holistic development, we’re thinking about your mental health and physical health and how all that comes together. You can’t really foster one without the other.
There are four main things we’re looking at when it comes to health and wellness: a sense of belonging and community, a sense of purpose, your physical health—how do you take care of your body through exercise, nutrition and sleep, and your emotional health.
When we think about emotional health, we think about mental health of course, but it’s also how well you manage stress. How well do you regulate your emotions? How well do you work with the adversities we all face in life? We’re all going to run into adversity and challenges, and we need those skills to make it through those adversities and challenges.
02What do we do well when it comes to addressing issues of mental health and mental well-being?
We’re doing a lot with integrated health and wellness to address mental health, and we’re at the forefront. We’re starting to see more nationally because we recognize that therapy is one piece of the puzzle. It can be a very important piece of the puzzle for a lot of people, but it is one piece of the puzzle.
What we’re doing really well here is we’re creating a lot of different opportunities for people to work on their holistic health and wellness opportunities that’s not only what you might think of as a traditional Western model. We’re really branching out in looking at how we offer diverse experiences.
We’ve also created a lot of great opportunities with infusing recreation into mental health. There’s so much research out there that indicates that exercise is profoundly impactful for moderate levels of anxiety and depression. Oftentimes, the research is telling us it’s actually more effective than medication, so we’re looking at how we take advantage of the great services that we have here in recreation and pair that with mental health.
03What advice would you have for students who are trying to find that community on campus?
As hard as this is, recognizing that it’s not going to happen instantaneously, and that’s okay. There’s this pressure that students feel to find community and find connection quickly, and I get that, it’s so important and we are social creatures.
Psychologically, we are driven to connection. It is one of the most important parts of the human experience. It keeps us psychologically and physically healthy. But that community can be found in so many places. Sometimes our students have this feeling of, “If I don’t find my friends within the first few weeks or my community within the first few weeks, it’s never going to happen.”
From being here for 11 years, I’ve seen students find a community that they were surprised they found in their senior year. You might not always keep the friends you had your first year. What we need to think about is, how do I gently challenge myself to take advantage of those opportunities and get out there and make connections. That can include joining a club, coming to a fitness class at the Barnes Center, joining a sports club or through your on-campus job.
Our Intercultural Collective and the Schine Student Center are great places for students to find connections with people who have similar identities. It’s about finding similar interests and finding people that feel like they get you. There’s no surefire, guaranteed way to do this aside from getting out there and trying to connect with people.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.