This story was updated on Dec. 11 to clarify student statistics.
English senior Deborah Hoggard is preparing for a spring graduation, but with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder lingering, her efforts are proving to be challenging.
“There are times when I just want to throw in the towel. There’s so much going on in my head,” Hoggard said. “I sleep a lot more than I should, and that affects getting my work done. I missed my first class this morning because I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. My depression takes on a physical form with me. I feel like I’ve been running a marathon. If the teacher turns off the light for any reason, I can’t stay awake.”
Hoggard has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression since she was 15 years old. A sick father, an abusive ex and sexual abuse were the root of her mental health issues. She said she often has panic attacks when she’s under a lot of stress, and her PTSD is sometimes triggered when certain reading material for her history class goes into great details of violence.
Hoggard is among those students at Texas A&M University-San Antonio with several mental disabilities. Meanwhile, a national study found that at least half of U.S. college students struggle academically because of anxiety, and even more report feeling overwhelmed.
Dr. Mary Buzzetta, director of Student Counseling & Wellness Services at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, said the top diagnosis for the 2018 academic year was depression. She shared the following percentages for students served by Student Counseling and Wellness Services:
- 53% — depression-related disorders
- 41% — anxiety-related disorders
- 40% — adjustment-related disorders
- 39% —trauma-related disorders
Student Counseling and Wellness Services offers several types of therapies for PTSD and trauma including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and prolonged exposure therapy. Each staff member at the center is certified in at least one trauma-related therapy, she said.
Buzetta said medication is not always necessary, especially if someone can establish strong coping skills.
“It’s a case-by-case basis. Therapy is very effective and medication is recommended by the clinician if it’s interfering with someone’s functioning, like they can’t go to work or school,” Buzzetta said. “Not everybody needs medication and sometimes they just need therapy. SSRIs, antidepressants and anti anxiety are the most common. But coping skills help students identify their triggers because not everyone knows what their triggers are.”
Buzzetta said students who don’t develop coping skills might be unsuccessful going straight into therapy. She said coping can include calling a friend, going on a walk or using positive coping statements.
Hoggard said she has been trying to implement coping skills into her daily routine.
“The coping skills that have been working for me are extra sleep and coloring. That’s just for depression and anxiety,” Hoggard said. “I haven’t really been able to cope with PTSD because it’s triggered so randomly. I do try to keep up with groups on Facebook who have been through similar trauma as me, so reading their inspiring stories helps.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 50% of students have become so anxious that they struggled in school, and 80% of students have felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities.
Hoggard studied at Northeast Lakeview College before coming to A&M-San Antonio. She doesn’t recall anxiety or depression upon transferring, however, the workload and lower grades started to overwhelm her.
“Little by little the workload or getting low B’s on papers really hit me hard,” Hoggard said. “At the community college level I was always getting 90s and up and praise for my work. It kick- started self doubt and low confidence.”
Buzzetta says adjustment is a common concern for transfer students. A lot of them are coming from smaller campuses so navigating A&M-San Antonio can be intimidating.
“When we’re working with a student navigating adjustments, we help them acknowledge that this is an adjustment. That validation can be very healing,” Buzzetta said. “We provide examples of how they can adjust accordingly with healthy coping skills like with social and family support.”
Student Counseling & Wellness Services helps transfer students to get out of their comfort zones. One way is by asking if there is a student organization they might be willing to join.
“This is the only time where you can shop around for a student organization and not be punished for it,” Buzzetta says.
Students can experience anxiety from the rising cost of tuition and trying to balance personal life and work, but for some, anxiety can be triggered by trying to adapt to a new environment.
Dr. Patrick McDaniel, associate professional track professor in the counseling department at A&M-San Antonio, said based on his experience he finds that anxiety is very common among students.
“They’re anxious about their future and in their ability to perform well in higher education. Will this degree get them the career and life that they want?” McDaniel said. “There’s a lot going on in their life right then, a lot of issues that can’t be resolved. Only time will resolve these issues. How am I going to pay for everything? How am I going to balance my social life and academic life? And outside pressure from family and friends.”
Kimberly Terry, a licensed professional counselor at a private practice, said a transitional time in one’s life welcomes a lot of unknowns, which can create a lot of worry.
“It’s an influence on their autonomy,” Terry said. “Finding their autonomy outside of the family unit and making decisions that will have lasting effects on their life can be stressful. The responsibility is all on their shoulders and can trigger depression.”
McDaniel said he suggests talking with professors since a transition is stressful for most students.
“They do want to help students learn and grow. Students don’t connect with their professors as much as they could. The university is working on establishing a culture where those connections are made more frequently,” McDaniel said. “One of the reasons why I came to this institution was because of the student focus. I’ve never worked at another university where the student focus was like it is here. Faculty is really concerned with how they can help their students grow.”
As the fall semester begins to wind down, Hoggard says she has been struggling with her classes but still hopes to graduate in May.
“I have still been struggling in my classes, mostly with missing classes,” Hoggard said.
On top of her own mental health issues, Hoggard said her 5-year-old son had gone through some traumatic experiences.
“It’s been really hard to deal with that, emotionally and also having to take my son to multiple appointments,” Hoggard said.
If a student is interested in seeking help outside of the classroom, McDaniel recommends seeking out affordable help like the referral list in the Counseling and Wellness Center or by calling 211, the United Way helpline. The helpline is a confidential service that helps people throughout the United States find local resources they need 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Students attending A&M-San Antonio are also eligible to receive an initial consultation appointment to assess their needs at Student Counseling and Wellness Services 8 a.m. -5 p.m, Monday through Friday in Modular C 166.