Texas A&M: Texas A&M Experts Discuss Students’ Mental Well-Being

Nearly everyone has struggled with stress and other factors affecting mental health and well-being, and getting help is not a sign of weakness, according to Texas A&M University experts at a town hall presentation held recently at the Memorial Student Center.

The Texas A&M Student Government Association hosted the event to showcase the mental health resources available to students and to open an avenue for conversation on mental health issues, said Texas A&M Student Body President Natalie Parks ’22.

“Mental wellness very much impacts student success,” Parks said at the event, which was also livestreamed and recorded on Texas A&M’s Facebook page.

The four panelists, all based at Texas A&M, were Mary Ann Covey, director of Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS); Esther Wright, a CAPS psychologist who works with graduate students; Ryan Pittsinger, assistant athletics director and director of counseling and sport psychology; and Megan Benzel ’22, chaplain for the Corps of Cadets.

They emphasized that students who experience stress, anxiety or other issues are not alone, and that help is available.

“If I break my arm, the number one thing I am going to do is go to the doctor and get an X-ray,” said Pittsinger. “There’s no, ‘Hey, does it mean that I’m weak if get an X-ray?’ No! If I don’t get an X-ray, then I’m a knucklehead. I think we need to start thinking about our mental health in that way.”

Covey said that anxiety is the primary reason students reach out to the center, accounting for about 86 percent of contacts, and that the CAPS website offers a variety of helpful videos, links and other resources.

“Mental health is often related to short-term skill building — things that people can learn to help themselves through solution-oriented, short-term work,” she said.

CAPS also offers counseling via chat, text (by texting “CONNECT” to 741-741) and telephone (979-845-2700). In addition, CAPS has one-on-one and group counseling and workshops (with different availability at different points in the semester), and resources for suicide awareness and prevention and for the LGBTQ+ community.

“Mental health is connected to every area of your life, so you need to pay attention to it,” Wright said.

As an example, she said that “anxiety can have an impact on your ability to concentrate. Your ability to concentrate affects your ability to remember information. And if you’re not sleeping — if you are pulling an all-nighter — that may serve you well in the short run, but we need sleep to help us remember what we have learned throughout the day. You can see the connection between our mental health and academic performance.”

Benzel agreed, noting that college students, especially those at Texas A&M, feel pressure to perform well.

“We are high-achieving people, with high expectations and high goals,” she said. “It’s just how we are. It can be super awesome because we do some really cool things, but also it means that sometimes the weight of the world is on our shoulders.”

To help reduce that pressure, the experts recommended engaging in self-compassion and self-care — healthy behaviors that improve mental, physical and emotional health.

Students often forgo self-care because they feel guilty when they take time for themselves instead of studying or being otherwise productive.

Instead, Wright encouraged students to think of self-care like they think of maintaining their car.

“If your car needs an oil change, you can continue driving, but eventually it will break down on the side of the road,” she said. “Think of your own body in that way — that it’s too important not to invest in self-care.”

Benzel said that while skipping a self-care practice such as exercise can be appealing, she usually regrets it later.

“I’ve noticed that whenever I sleep in before an exam instead of exercising, I usually don’t do as well on the exam,” she said, adding that this is due to the change in her schedule and feelings of guilt over not working out. “In addition, I find that exercise helps release endorphins that reduce stress levels.”

The panelists also discussed several strategies for addressing mental well-being:

Fully connect with difficulties before trying to solve them. Acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, and identify specific needs related to them. For example, someone feeling irritable might realize that they haven’t eaten all day or are dehydrated.
Get enough sleep and exercise, and follow a healthy diet.
Follow a daily routine.
Find a mentor who can help you work through stressful situations.
Set priorities. Keep a calendar of your activities, and schedule time for yourself.
Practice gratitude and make sure your behaviors align with your spiritual beliefs.

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