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Dr. Sherry Benton on Mental Health Support at College

Dr. Sherry Benton on Mental Health Support at College

If you’re a college student and you’re struggling with mental health, you’re definitely not alone. College News got advice from an expert.

With a recent research study showing that one in five university students are affected by anxiety or depression, the pressure on campus facilities is high. College News discussed the problem with Dr. Sherry Benton.

Dr. Benton is a psychologist and mental health care administrator with over 22 years of experience. She is also the founder of TAO Connect—a digital platform that functions to make mental health recovery treatments easily accessible.

College News: How can college students reach out about mental health struggles?

Dr. Benton: Most campuses have a counseling center, counseling service or psychological services. Find your campuses service and learn about their programs and services. Typically, they offer a range of options.

CN: What kinds of mental health support facilities should students be looking out for when applying for colleges?

DB: Ideally, campuses should take a campus wide, comprehensive approach—including prevention, resilience training, counseling, groups, bystander education programs and other services. The Jed foundation, “Jed Campus” program works with a campus over a four-year period to insure the campus approach to mental health, substance abuse and suicide, are comprehensive and well-coordinated. Jed Campus designation is an excellent way to insure a campus has taken these issues seriously and thought out the best approaches for them.

CN: What are the most common and the most effective ways to deliver mental health therapy?

DB: Different people have different needs and respond to different approaches. Traditional face-to-face individual psychotherapy is the most common and best known. However, research has shown it is not more effective than group therapy or internet based cognitive behavioral therapy for many common problems. Many people also find self-help or apps effective for them.

CN: Do you think that students do not receive enough mental health help at college?

DB: I think most universities work very hard to meet the need, yet providing psychotherapy is really expensive and often difficult to access everywhere not just in universities. Using effective models such as stepped-care can help campuses to stretch limited resources to provide more help to more students. In stepped-care, students are quickly assessed and then begin with a level of help likely to be helpful. Progress is monitored regularly and students can be moved to more intensive or less intensive levels of help depending on their responses.

CN: How can campuses raise awareness and take a proactive approach to mental health?

DB: Campuses can raise awareness through the following: educational campaigns, resilience training in freshman orientation classes, bystander education programs like Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) or Kognito, education programs through Greek houses, residence halls, athletic departments, clubs and organizations.

CN: Are there exercises that students can practice on their own to help improve their mental state?

DB: Mindfulness meditation is something everyone should do. The many health benefits and mental health benefits would suggest that daily meditation should be as consistent as brushing your teeth. Another option is TAO Connect, which provides students access to its self-help courses whenever they want, without having to make an appointment to see a therapist.

CN: What is TAO Connect?

DB: We are a suite of online tools for mental health screening, assessment, patient education, skill development and progress monitoring. TAO can be used as self-help or with a therapist or case manager. TAO’s materials are interesting and engaging with actors in scenes, animations, interactive exercises and journaling.

CN: How can students take advantage of TAO Connect?

DB: There are 120 colleges in the US and Canada offering TAO’s programs to students either as self-help or through their counseling center. Contact your counseling center to find out if your school subscribes to TAO.

Further reading: You’re Not Alone: Facing Loneliness In College

College Experience

How to Learn More from Your College Experience

College isn’t just a stepping stone towards the start of a fulfilling career, it can be one of the most exciting times of your life. During your time there, you’re given multiple opportunities to cultivate a deeper understanding of an area of study as well as explore additional interests, meet interesting new people, and get to know yourself a little bit more—but you need to actually take those opportunities in order to make the most out of college.

This is how to learn more from your college experience:

Drop by events and seminars on campus

Guest speakers are always invited to college campuses, and a majority of the time they talk about some pretty thought-provoking topics! Whether a speaker is giving a lecture or an informative seminar about a social cause, you will unquestionably walk away from their event having learned something new and enlightening. Professors often offer extra credit for attending seminars as well, giving you the chance to boost your grade, too.

Study abroad if you have the chance

You can read a thousand books on a different country and come to learn everything about it, but doing so can never compare to the enriching experience of actually living there. Not only do you get to embrace a different culture when studying abroad, you can learn a new language, become more open-minded to another society, and even leave with a pen pal or two. Furthermore, living in a different country forces you to be independent and adapt to unexpected challenges, which can be very rewarding for your personal development.

Take classes you’re curious about

Besides dedicating most of your time to major studies, take classes that ignite your curiosity or simply sound fun. College is a time of self-exploration and discovery, and doing so through classes outside your major is a great start. You never know what might become a favorite new passion or an area of study that perfectly complements your major. Who knows, you might even switch to an entirely different major!

Talk to professors during office hours

A professor can be one of the coolest people you meet during college. You would be surprised at what life knowledge they can share besides helping you out with last week’s lecture. These people were once students like you and can offer insight on how to tackle the college years and even direct you to possible internships and professional opportunities. If you’re beginning to network, start with building the foundation of it with your professors.

Interact with different groups of people outside your social circle

Your main social circle shouldn’t be the only group of people you hang out with during college. Don’t be afraid to become friends with foreign exchange students, join campus groups who share your same interests, and network with classmates – these are individuals who can become your lifelong friends, teach you important lessons, or help you take steps forward in your career.

Act responsibly

Parties are going to be a big thing in college, and they may become events you attend every other weekend or so. Have fun by all means! But act responsibly and aware during your time at one. Watch your alcohol intake if you’ll be drinking, be cautious when exposed to drugs, and keep an eye out for your friends if you get separated. What matters the most at a party is the fact that you are safe, comfortable, and having a great time! By acting responsibly during a party, you learn how to take care of yourself, watch out for your friends, and develop good judgment skills.

During college, you will meet an incredible diversity of people and learn about their different backgrounds, be given endless opportunities to learn more about this world, and come closer to knowing who you are. At the end of the day, you are the one who determines whether or not college can be an amazing experience – so make it count!

Further reading: Exploring Campus

Trevor McDonald is a freelance content writer, currently writing on behalf of Ohio Addiction Recovery Center. He’s written a variety of education, travel, health, and lifestyle articles to share his experiences with the world. In his free time, you can find him playing his guitar or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.