Mental health struggles ‘debilitating’ for students

Kate Steinhorst, Staff Writer

April Lee / Advance-Titan
Walking around campus, signs of encouragement can be found. UWO’s suicide prevention campaign is focusing on mental health.

While pain may not always be visible, the signs throughout the UW Oshkosh campus clearly are.

In late October, the university introduced a new suicide prevention campaign that acknowledged that the pandemic caused a lot of isolation for everyone, especially students. The campaign, titled “Beneath the Surface: Pain is not always visible,” includes signs throughout campus that remind students they are not alone, that they are enough and that being human means being imperfect.

Before COVID-19 hit, the American College Health Association surveyed students in 2018 and 2019 that showed, “60% of respondents felt “overwhelming” anxiety, while 40% experienced depression so severe they had difficulty functioning.”

According to a UWO press release:
Sandra Cox, the director of the UWO Counseling Center, said the national average of students being seen by campus counseling has risen from 7% to 10%. The UWO Counseling Center sees approximately 15% of the student population.

Cox said the university campaign focuses on mental health in multiple ways. The campaign not only uses yard signs on campus with affirming messages, but also coffee cup sleeves with information on the Counseling Center and posters in hallways that first look cheerful, but have depression under the surface.

“I walk through campus and know there are countless hidden stories of difficulty masked behind the smiling faces of our college students,” said UWO Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Art Munin.

He said many people spend an incredible amount of energy convincing the world that they are perfectly fine.

“We are so adept at this as a society, that for those of us who struggle, we look out into a sea of smiling faces daily and feel utterly alone in our struggle,” Munin said. “Many do not realize the pain hidden behind many of the smiles we see on campus.”

Erin Thompson, a journalism and environmental studies major at UWO, said she struggles with mental health, specifically anxiety and depression.

“As a student who is highly involved in the campus community, it can be really hard for me to tell people that I can’t make it to something, need a break, or that I can’t handle another commitment,” Thompson said. “I often find myself making excuses so that I don’t have to tell professors or other students the real reason why I can’t attend something. Depressive episodes can last anywhere from a couple days to a month, which completely alters my motivation to do school work, attend class, or participate in extracurriculars.”

Thompson said the UWO campaign helps to destigmatize depression, and that is a good thing.

“Specifically addressing suicide is really critical right now because student mental health issues are worsened so much by the realities of the present day,” she said. “It’s important for the university to continue making accommodations for mental health issues because these struggles are debilitating.”

For more information on how to identify warning signs, conversation starters or information for anyone struggling or needing help for a friend, go to