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Student depression support group faces possible disbandment

Students can find the depression support group and other resources in the Cowell building. (Octavia Sun)
Students can find the depression support group and other resources in the Cowell building. (Octavia Sun)

A mental health service for students at Mills is in danger of being disbanded due to lack of student participation.

Mills’ Counseling and Psychological services created a group in the fall of 2013 to assist students struggling with depression and stress.  However, due to recent student participation being below five students a week, the group may not be able to continue.  The group has tried promoting their sessions in different ways, including posting in the student news; however they still are not meeting the five student minimum to keep it running.

Dr. Jennifer Panish, assistant director of Mills’ Counseling and Psychological Services and head of the group, says that national data shows students are in need of ways to help deal with the growing levels of stress and depression they experience.  According to Panish, a helpful method for students are support groups, such as Mills’ student depression support group.

“Support groups can be helpful for people to share ideas, share pain, and feel that they aren’t alone in their struggles,” Panish said in an email.  “The more resources the better.”

However, according to Panish, these resources have their limits.

“Part of what makes group therapy effective is having a regular showing of people,” Panish said.  “If only [a few] people show up, the benefits of group therapy are questionable.”

Dr. Dean Morier, a professor of psychology at Mills, says that determining the type of therapy that works better is dependent upon the individual and the way to best help them cope.

However, despite these resources, struggling students still have difficulties attending meetings.  According to Panish, reasons for a lack of regular members could range from concerns about confidentiality to having a busy schedule.  Mills being a small college could also be a reason for so few students attending, Panish said.

Morier said there are many factors that contribute to lack of student participation.  Issues ranging from students feeling a stigma surrounding their depression or anxiety to worries about confidential information being leaked are all possibilities for students not attending.  Some students can also be unsure of the effectiveness of therapies such as the depression group, or they may have a lack of motivation.

Even though groups are helpful, Panish finds that students seem to prefer individual therapy.

“Although groups can be helpful, the majority of Mills students [who seek counseling] prefer the individual counseling sessions,” Panish said.

According to Morier, there are both advantages and disadvantages to individual and group therapies.

“Both approaches can be helpful, but individual therapy usually has greater impact on changes in clients because more time and attention is focused on [their] specific needs,” Morier said.

Murphy believes students should have resources like the Mills depression group. (Monika Sabic)
Murphy believes students should have resources like the Mills depression group. (Monika Sabic)

Mills Senior Mollie Murphy attended the group for several years, and she found it to be an incredibly important resource for her mental health. Murphy found value in doing individual therapy as well as group therapy; however, she noticed several differences.

“[Individual therapy] can be very isolating, and it can be easy — especially when you are depressed — to feel like you’re the only person who feels this way,” Murphy said.  “You think things that are awful and would sound awful if you said them aloud.  But in group I could say those things.”

Though it depends upon the individual’s needs, many students still receive benefits from a depression therapy group.

“Seeing that you are not alone and that others share the same struggles in life that you do can be very helpful in coping,” Morier said.

According to Murphy, attending group therapy became an incredible support system for her.

“I could say what I’d been feeling, what I’d been thinking, and [I] found people who understood me,” Murphy said.  “I’d never done group therapy before, and immediately it felt like [I had] filled a hole.”

Murphy said issues that might keep students from attending the sessions may lie in the institutional issues in many colleges, such as not having enough resources.

“I think a big problem with Mills and other higher learning institutions is that there is this idea that’s saturated that if you’re struggling with something that prevents you from doing your best, there is this sense that you need to take time off,” Murphy said.

Murphy takes issue with the suggestion from colleges that students dealing with depression should take time off.  She finds that schools should be making more resources like group therapies available to students struggling with depression or stress.

“For a lot of us this is not just an ‘Oh, it’s a growing up thing,'” Murphy said.  “It frustrates me to see the lack of resources for students dealing with mental illness because it feeds this idea that if you have a mental illness you need to go away and come back when you’re ‘fixed.'”

Should the group not last through the spring, students still have options if they need mental health services, Panish said. Cowell will continue to hold appointments for individual counseling or consultations with professional therapists for students struggling with depression or other mental health illness/disorders.