At Miami, Students Reluctant To Seek Treatment For Anxiety
By Carleigh Turner
Miami Journalism Student
It was early November and Anna Senchak, then a sophomore at Miami, was using the elliptical at Miami University’s Rec Center.
The ellipticals had become a place of refuge for Senchak.
If she was having a difficult day, the physical activity of running on the elliptical would relieve her stress. Just 15 minutes into her hour-long workout, she would begin to feel better.
But that night was was different.
After struggling with anxiety for most of her life, the added stress of college had become too much.
“I started crying on the elliptical in the Rec and I was just like, Oh my god I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t deal with this. And that’s when I just knew that I needed to be on medication,” Senchak says.
Once she calmed down, Senchak went back to her dorm and called her mother, Julie Senchak, who advised her to call Student Counseling Services (SCS) the next day.
“We didn’t see college being a problem for her. But because of everything she had gone through with her life and leaving home, we thought that would contribute to what she was already dealing with,” Julie Senchak says. “We knew [college] would be a little overwhelming, it was everything in her life leading up this point, with all these new challenges.”
Anna Senchak did call SCS the next day and was able to be assessed by one of its therapists.
After her initial assessment, Anna Senchak and the therapist both agreed anti-anxiety medication would be the preferred treatment, however Anna Senchak would not be able to meet with Miami’s psychiatrist, Dr. Joshua Hersch, for another month due to the counseling center’s waitlist.
“[The SCS therapist] was very helpful and very straightforward and said, ‘Listen you should probably go see someone at home if you want to get help.’ Which was great because if he would have tried to get me to stay there I probably would not be a very happy camper,” Anna Senchak says.
After being laughed at by her pediatrician when she asked to be medicated for her anxiety symptoms, Senchak finally got the help she needed after seeing a psychiatrist in Cleveland
“[Seeing the psychiatrist] felt so much better,” Senchak said. “He, kind of explained exactly how I was feeling. When I would give an example [of what I was dealing with] he would say, ‘If you have generalized anxiety disorder, this is what would happen.’”
The psychiatrist then diagnosed Senchak with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and prescribed her Escitalopram, an anti-anxiety medication.
She could finally begin to heal.
Senchak is not alone
Last year, 19-percent of the 964 Miami students who took the Healthy Minds survey reported experiencing anxiety. This makes the disorder the second most common on Miami’s campus, following depression (25 percent).
However, only 48 percent of Miami students that had a positive depression or anxiety screen reported receiving treatment such as counseling or taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
Although anxiety disorders are the second most common form of mental illness on Miami’s campus, anxiety is the most common mental disorder among Americans, according to Joshua Magee, an associate professor in psychology at Miami.
“It is encouraging that more students are reporting receiving treatment than what we typically see nationally, but there are still over 50 percent of students with anxiety not being helped,” Magee says. “It is important to understand what obstacles Miami students perceive to seeking out treatment.”
Sarah Dreyer-Oren, a graduate student at Miami who researches anxiety, said students should not be afraid to seek help if they feel their anxiety may be interfering with their life.
“There are treatments available and there are treatments that are effective that are available,” Dreyer-Oren says. “There’s never a wrong time to seek help.”
Where to seek help
Currently, Miami students on the Oxford campus can seek help at the Student Counseling Center or The Psychology Clinic. Students can also seek help from private practices in town if they have insurance. However, Oxford residents and students who have no insurance or are using Medicare have fewer services available to them.
Those individuals would previously have been able to seek help at the Community Counseling and Crisis Center of St. Aloysius, however when that closed down in 2013 Oxford residents without insurance were left without local mental health resources.
This will not be the case as of Jan. 2017.
The Oxford Counseling Center, whose target date to open is Jan. 3, 2017, will provide psychopharmacotherapy, outpatient care and other mental health resources to Oxford community members struggling with mental health issues and ways to pay for them.
The center is also open to Miami Students, although this is not their target population.
When to seek help
The diagnostic criteria for anxiety requires the symptoms of the disorder to cause enough distress to disrupt daily functioning for an individual.
Dreyer-Oren says some signs to look for if you think you or your friend may be suffering from an anxiety disorder include not wanting to engage in academic or social activities, or a general feeling that your symptoms are preventing you from living a value-driven life.
And if you are experiencing these symptoms, there is hope of recovery.
“I think a lot of people think of psychological treatment as something that is for other people but not for them,” Dreyer Oren says. “I think as a friend you can remind the person who is affected by anxiety that the [psychological] services are there for them.”
If Anna Senchak had not gotten help when she did, Julie Senchak believes she would not be able to do what she does today.
“[Anna Senchak] had such standards that were impossible for her to maintain, to be able to cope in life,” Julie Senchak says. “She was so overwhelmed with the things that other people coped with naturally. She never would have run for an office in [Alpha Chi Omega] if she wasn’t on this medication. She would have simply withdrawn from the opportunity. She would have never double minored.”
“It’s like having a broken arm”
Anna Senchak is now recruitment chair for Alpha Chi Omega and is majoring in Media and Culture, with two minors in Fashion and Graphic Design. She says she enjoys going out with her friends and is thankful that she does not have to be constrained by her anxiety anymore.
Julie Senchak, who was diagnosed with postpartum depression, hopes that those struggling with mental illness reach out for help.
“I remember when I was going through the postpartum and my OBGYN said, ‘Don’t beat yourself up about this. It’s like having a broken arm,” Julie Senchak says. “You can have the best attitude and think you can get over this, but you will still have a broken arm.’”
If you or someone you know is looking to get help, the following resources are available.
Miami University Student Counseling Center — 1 (513) 529–4634
Miami University Psychology Clinic — 1 (513)–529–2423
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1 (800)-273–8255
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline — 1 (877–726–4727)