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Student Guide: With college comes a lot of new things, including anxiety and other mental health issues. There are services out there that can help

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The majority of students who seek help through Cal Poly Counseling Services have symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, according to its director, Dr. Geneva Reynaga-Abiko.

And by the time those students have sought out the help they need, the symptoms are often debilitating, she said in a statement sent to New Times.

"Students are encouraged to seek services whenever they feel that talking to someone may be helpful," Reynaga-Abiko said. "The sooner they come in, the better, because this will help address any concerns before they become too overwhelming."

Seeking mental health help early is important, San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health Clinician Cassandra Ueberrhein said, because symptoms can get worse if they aren't treated and start to affect other aspects of life. For example, if someone is depressed and can't get out of bed, it means they're not showering, eating, exercising, or interacting with others, potentially affecting relationships, work, and a person's physical health.

"Mental health is important because it is a significant portion of our overall health," Ueberrhein said. "Physical health and mental health should be on an even playing ground. ... And of course, some mental illnesses can lead to suicide as well."

Counseling Services is one of a handful of places on Cal Poly's campus where students can seek help, depending on the issue. There's also Safer for victims of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, and stalking. Campus Mental Health and Wellness hosts open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for students dealing with substance abuse issues. Dealing with stress management issues or sleep deprivation or lack of motivation? There are walk-in hours for that. All you have to do is show up, and someone will be there to help.

You could even walk into Ueberrhein's office, which is located in the yak?ityutyu residential community on campus. She's entering her fifth year on campus with the help of a special grant administered through the county for identifying and treating first-episode psychosis, which could include hallucinations, delusions, and other breaks with reality. The typical age range for the onset of schizophrenia, bipolar, and schizoaffective disorders is 16 through 30 years old. It affects between 3 and 8 percent of the population.

"It's pretty rare, but early intervention is really, really important for recovery and for the prognosis of the future," Ueberrhein said. "Those students are my No. 1 priority, and I'm looking for those students, I'm reaching out to those students."

She sees about 60 students per year, some of whom are referred to her through other campus health services, although not all of them are necessarily experiencing first episodes of psychosis.

"I see students who are dealing with maybe just having a hard time adjusting to college, maybe dealing with some identity issues, dealing with some problems back home, all the way to students who are dealing with suicidal ideation," Ueberrhein said.

When a student walks through her door or the door of Counseling Services, they can get referred to services in the county or on campus that can help. It's collaborative, she said, plus it's free.

Mental health professionals in the county, at Cal Poly, and at Cuesta College work together to address the issues they see. They partner through collaborative efforts such as the Suicide Prevention Council, which tries to meet once a month to talk about data and ways they can support one another's organizations, said SLO County Suicide Prevention Coordinator Alysia Hendry.

In 2018, 17 people per 100,000 died by suicide in SLO County, which Hendry said is a high rate. Los Angeles, a city with a much larger population, had a lower rate of suicide in 2018: 12 people per 100,000 died by suicide. The highest risk group for suicide in SLO County is those between the ages of 36 and 60, but Hendry said suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth from 15 to 34.

"But that's because a lot of people that age aren't dying by other causes," Hendry said.

Much of the focus of the Suicide Prevention Council, Hendry said, is on trainings such as QPR: question, persuade, refer. It helps people understand the risk factors, warning signs, and what to do if someone they know might be contemplating thoughts of suicide.

Stigma is still a huge barrier to seeking mental health help, Ueberrhein said. So, it's important to talk about it with the people around you. One of the nice things about being located on campus in the dorms is that students can seek out Ueberrhein without being noticed. It's not as conspicuous as walking into Counseling Services, and it's easy access.

"People don't talk about this stuff because there is oftentimes a stigma around any kind of mental illness or emotional distress. I think giving off an open-minded and accepting, nonjudgmental attitude about talking about mental health is really important," Ueberrhein said. "For each other to normalize going to therapy or going to counseling just like going to the doctor for a physical illness." Δ

Reach Editor Camillia Lanham at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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