UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

Help available for UHCL students coping with stress of the season



It’s supposed to be the happiest season of all: decorating for the holidays, gift shopping and vacation time with family. The holiday season is upon us, but for an increasing number of people, this time of year is not particularly merry.

In 2016, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University published a survey reporting that anxiety and depression are on the rise among college students. If you’re a college student who’s already feeling emotionally distressed, the stress of the end of the year combined with the holidays can make it all feel worse.

Carolina Jimenez, a psychologist and outreach coordinator in University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Counseling Services, said that nationwide, suicide is the second leading cause of death among students between ages 25-34. “What makes this problem even sadder is that it’s so preventable,” she said.

Jimenez discussed several questions surrounding the causes of anxiety and depression in college students, how suicidal tendencies originate and the services that UH-Clear Lake offers to address these problems.

What are the underlying factors in a suicidal death of a college student?

“It’s usually a combination of life stresses. Financial, work, academic, family/relationship and social stressors can combine to create a sense of hopelessness and discouragement. It can also include significant life changes, lack of social support, fear of disappointing others, and being diagnosed with a terminal illness.”

Often, she explained, a student might ‘catastrophize’ a single event. “The thinking pattern can be ‘I’m going to fail this test, I going to fail the class, I’m going to fail this semester, I’m going to drop out, and my life is over, I should kill myself.’ It can be followed by negative self-talk, like, ‘You’re stupid, you’re worthless, you can’t do anything right.’ There is a sense that one negative event will impact your entire life and can often lead to depressive thoughts.

“Research has also shown that experiencing a significant loss, including the end of a romantic relationship or the death of a loved one can trigger suicidal thoughts.”

What is the difference between going through a difficult phase and a real mental illness? 

“The word ‘depression’ is often overused. The main difference is the length of time and intensity of the symptoms. Everyone has ups and downs, but if the downs are persistent, then it can be a cause for concern. A good rule of thumb is that if the problems persist more than two weeks, then it may be beneficial to consult a professional.”

If the “downs” are so intense that they negatively impact your work performance, your ability to study, and your relationships, then seeking support from a therapist may be helpful.

There are significant differences between feeling down, and experiencing depression or another mental illness, Jimenez said. Often, when people seem very happy and energetic one minute, and upset and depressed the next, they’re offhandedly called “bipolar.” Bipolar disorder is not about being moody, she explained.

“People often say that someone is bipolar when they are referring to someone who is experiencing a change in mood. People with bipolar disorder show clearly defined episodes of extreme happiness, high energy, and often times impulsivity including engaging in risky behavior and over spending. These episodes can be followed by depressive symptoms including sadness, changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, decreased interest in activities people used to enjoy, and lack of energy and/or concentration.”

Some people are depressed when they “seem” happy to everyone. What are some of the less obvious symptoms?

“Anything that is a drastic change in someone’s usual behavior can be an indication that something may be wrong. For example, if someone usually attends weekly meetings to hobbies, clubs, extracurricular activities, etc. and they suddenly don’t seem to care about those activities anymore. Other less obvious signs include irritability and difficulty making decisions.”

She added that abusing substances like alcohol or drugs can be used to numb feelings of despair or sadness, but that ultimately, they only intensified the problems. “Alcohol overuse can be a real risk factor, and it plays into impulse control—once you start, you might not be able to stop.”

What are some specific risk factors for suicide among millennials?

Jimenez said that social media has played a significant role in keeping people from forming the lasting, deep relationships that they need to sustain them through difficult times. “Social media and increased screen time often lead to social isolation,” Jimenez said.

“People post what seems to be their happiest moments on social media, so this creates negative comparisons added to a sense of isolation.”

Social comparisons can intensify depressive feelings, she said. “It may look like everyone’s life is amazing except mine. Everyone is succeeding, getting married, their lives seem perfect. But it’s easy to hide behind a screen. You don’t see the reality, you often only see the happy moments.”

Technology has released many people from having to be in a certain location for their jobs. Many people can work from home, which has its benefits but also can deprive people from developing personal relationships with coworkers that can be an important source of support,” Jimenez said.

To what degree does race, gender or religion play into a student’s decision to commit suicide?

“White men have the highest risk for suicide. Men become more emotionally distressed after a loss and can try more lethal ways to kill themselves. A woman might attempt to overdose on pills, but a man is more likely to use a gun.”

She added that foreign students who are experiencing anxiety or depression are much harder to bring to counseling. “There is still stigma attached to seeking mental help. People from other cultures are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the concept of coming and telling a ‘stranger’ their problems. We are working diligently to gain the trust of our international students.”

Foreign students are worried they’ll disappoint their families and that if they do not succeed here, they’ll lose their financial investment in their education. “The stigma is strong, and we are working to improve our outreach to these students,” she said.

What services does UHCL offer students who require mental health support?

Counseling Services, located in the Student Services and Classroom Building, offers free individual, group and couples therapy in both English and Spanish. All students who are enrolled at UHCL qualify for these services. A psychiatrist is available for coordinated care, and payments are significantly cheaper through the university than off-campus. Crisis consultation services are available. All services are completely confidential and kept separate from academic and health records. They also provide a biofeedback/relaxation room, workshops, animal-assisted therapy, social media articles, a self-help library, and educational displays. Faculty and staff are eligible to receive two free consultations, then a referral if needed.

“We like to focus on prevention. We encourage people to come when they are stressed out to prevent them from having panic attacks. The investment of time is worth the benefits in people’s overall well-being.”

For more information about UHCL Counseling Services, visit www.uhcl.edu/counseling-services.