Mental Health at Marymount: Students Struggling with Stress

By: Abigail Vázquez Rosario

Photo Credit: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

A startling 85% of college students in the U.S. report feeling overwhelmed and stressed according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. To be specific, many students at Marymount University express anxiety over managing academics, work, extracurricular activities, and familial and other obligations.


As a part of Marymount University’s mission, students are encouraged to be involved in extracurricular activities, volunteerism, study abroad, and are required to complete an internship. This may put a lot of pressure on students who work and have other responsibilities. Hence, it is important to evaluate what stress factors students at Marymount have, how they are coping with stress, and what Marymount is doing to help students with their mental health. 


Across the board, many students at Marymount deal with stress. Regardless if they are a transfer, commuter, residential, international, or first-generation student. School-related stress impacts several different types of students at Marymount who reported experiencing stress over the pressure of academics and the demand to be a well-rounded student in the current job market.


Students must manage their stress levels because it can have devastating long-term effects on both physical and mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can negatively affect the body by impacting the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and even reproductive systems. Along with this, the National Institute of Mental Health asserts that prolonged stress can lead to mental health disorders; such as anxiety and depression which can be particularly harmful to college students who typically have a lack of sleep, are not eating healthy diets, and have trouble managing their schedules to have time devoted to self-care.


Jaida Tavares, a Junior at Marymount studying Interior Design stated, “I don’t have time to go to the gym anymore. I’m always traveling from school and work so when I eat I just throw whatever I can find and it’s not necessarily the healthiest thing and so that has an impact [on her mental and physical health]” and says, “my sleep too is another thing that has gone away.” 


Susmina Upreti, a Senior at Marymount studying Computer Science, expresses that it is hard for her to manage her schoolwork because she says she works, “part-time as a server. 20-30 hours.” She said, “If I have a very big project over the weekend and I haven’t started I just take my time, and sometimes I don’t sleep, and I work all night on it.”


Students not only confessed that schoolwork has impacted their sleep patterns, diet, and exercise level but that that stress also has negative effects on their mental health. First-generation college student Levis Roberto Mendoza Villatoro, a Junior at Marymount studying Business Administration, also works 30 hours in a restaurant as a supervisor. Regarding his mental and physical health, Mendoza states that, “work is physically exhausting, we get busy a lot, and school is really mentally draining.”


A vast majority of students have to carry the financial burden of paying for school as tuition in private universities in the U.S. has increased by 144% over the past 20 years according to a 2020 U.S. News and World Report article. Specifically, students at Marymount have to pay their tuition bill of $33,200 even if they receive some form of federal aid, grants, and scholarships. 


Tavares, Upreti, and Mendoza are all working part-time while pursuing their degree. So is student-athlete David Enrique Jandres Polio, a Marymount Junior studying Business Administration. He said, “I probably work nearly 35 hours a week. And then on top of that, I have other responsibilities; making sure my car and my rent is being paid.”


A lot of students have family obligations and outside responsibilities. Mendoza pays for his car, rent, and tuition. He also said, “I am the eldest of four” and says he picks up his little brother from school, his sister from work and states, “my brother, the second oldest, he’s a part of the football team and I have to go pick him up from his football games or weight training. And I also do have to cook for them; also, custodial things too like cleaning.” Along with this Mendoza says, “aside from my three other siblings we do have a dog, his name is Rio” and “school and work is pretty exhausting but then still having even more responsibilities at home; it’s a lot, is a lot to bear.”


Tavares also states, “I do have a lot of family obligations. My mom loves pets, so we have a lot of them, and I oftentimes take care of my brother and do things for the house like groceries, clean up, you know things like that, family obligations.”


Students at Marymount sometimes have family responsibilities and take care of their siblings, but some of them also have to take care of their parents. Jandres says, “I usually support my parents any way possible. My mom and my father both have health issues so when it comes time to take them to the clinic or get a prescription, I would help them out and drive them.”


With students at Marymount having a specific school schedule, academic workload, part-time jobs, and involvement in extracurricular activities, it may seem impossible for them to have a healthy school, work, and life balance and practice the importance of self-care. 


Regarding decompressing and using healthy coping mechanisms, Upreti stated, “I try to take off on Fridays. Like Friday is my time. I try to take a break from my studies and from my work and I try to go out with my friends so that’s like my day.” Jandres says, “dance has helped me try to release most of my stress.” Tavares says, “painting something; it’s relaxing to me. Also finding time to do something other than work and school.” And, while on campus Mendoza says, “I’ll destress, either watching a documentary or watching something on Hulu.”


Students at Marymount do have a sense of some healthy coping mechanisms, but many have not been to the Counseling Center, which may be from the stigma of getting help or because receiving counseling from Marymount may not seem accessible. However, this is something the Marymount Office of Wellness is trying to combat; destigmatizing receiving counseling and dismantling barriers for students to have access to the resources and receive the help they need.


The Marymount Counseling Center provides a vast variety of resources for students such as individual counseling, group counseling, walk-ins, psychiatric help, outreach presentation programs, along with campus events to show students they have a support system on campus. Dr. Laura Finkelstein, Assistant Vice President of Student Health, discussed how accessible Marymount’s counseling services are. She said, “all students get it for free, completely free, doesn’t matter their insurance. So, you can have Marymount’s insurance, outside insurance it doesn’t matter, so it’s free for everyone.”


Finkelstein said that the Office of Health and Wellbeing has benefited many students. “I just see how big of a difference it can make in students’ lives and we’re lucky here at least so far that here we’ve been able to manage as many clients as we can. We’re not on a waitlist. We get students within a week. We’ll see them that day if it’s urgent.” Finkelstein said students can “stop by for a walk-in and meet with someone” every day from 2 pm to 3 pm. 


Along with providing counseling services, Finkelstein said that the Office of Wellness and the Office of Ministry and Spiritual Life and the Office of Student Health are all under Health and Wellbeing  and stated, “we’ll partner to bring different activities to campus, and we have what we call Wellness Wednesdays so every Wednesday there’s one to two activities usually around 12 and maybe around 4 to help students de-stress.” 


Finkelstein said there are many different resources to help students dealing with stress. “We have an outreach branch of the counseling center and that does a couple things. So, you can request a presentation or an event on a certain topic. So often we’ll go out to a class and we’ll present on managing stress and anxiety. That’s probably the request we get the most, but we can do any sort of topic.”


Along with this, Finkelstein explains that there are many different types of therapy, techniques, and approaches counselors have to tailor to every student’s specific needs. For example, she said, “each counselor really has a different approach but we do have some overlap so I will say we all use some CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)” and that “the common thread is really the interpersonal therapy and that’s just focused on your relationship with the therapist.”


Marymount’s Office of Student Health and Counseling Center also has a variety of counseling categories and events to help students manage their stress as well. Finkelstein states that, “students that are dealing with sort of loneliness or feeling isolated I think of them coming to our groups and really being impacted by that just to have it normalized and to see other students are going through similar things.” Finkelstein said, “some people are into mindful meditation techniques.” She also says, “I actually use art therapy, so I sometimes do that with students. I do an annual trauma survivor art therapy project with students that’s coming up” and that there are also, “different events, we have a film series that’s going on right now.”


Finkelstein stated the counseling center provides confidentiality and also provides an emergency hotline. “The confidentiality piece and how seriously we take that and how if you have a conduct case and you come to counseling we’re not discussing that. If you have other issues it really is a total vault of information I think sometimes that is helpful for getting students to come in and feel like they can open up” and that the emergency number is, “a resource, if someone is feeling really suicidal or in danger in some way that they can call.”


Regarding what Marymount is doing to support student’s mental health, Upreti thinks Marymount is actively involved in helping students manage their stress stating, “I think so far Marymount is doing a good job.” However, Jandres said, “there should also be events that are relatable to students for example if it’s like you have too much homework here’s a peer tutor you can probably follow up with that’s in your major.” 


Mendoza thought Marymount could improve to help students manage their stress and schedule. “I believe there’s only 16-week classes but I remember when I was at NOVA there were 16, 14, 10 week and 8-week classes.” Mendoza said that having a variety of lengths of classes can help students struggling to handle school, work, and extracurricular activities manage their stress. “I feel like scheduling would help a lot of Marymount students” because they can choose their classes, “ at their best convenience.” 


Regarding what Marymount can do better in terms of providing services to students, Finkelstein said, “I’d love to hear from students.” Tavares said, “I think all Marymount can do is offer the information and the events” but that “it’s also up to the person whether or not they want to get help or how they want to manage their time.”


Taking everything into consideration, regarding prioritizing school but also self-care, Mendoza states, “it is hard” but that “everybody should pursue a degree within their passions.” Tavares admits, “school is hard, I don’t think people give all the students enough credit” but that her professors “provide a lot of support.” And, the Marymount Counseling Center is striving to help students have school, work, and life balance as Finkelstein says students should, “keep the perspective of school and school work, how important it is and that it’s a priority, but it shouldn’t be so overwhelming.”


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