Young Adults at risk:

Young Adults at risk:

That first year of college is a huge adjustment for most young adults and the Freshman Fifteen weight gain may be the least of the problems they're facing. There's a lot of pressure — to fit in, get good grades and succeed. "Basically you can see it as a new job, with multiple bosses, deadlines, pressures," explains Diane Potratz, director of the Student Health and Wellness Center at Southern Oregon University. "The inherent stresses in university life are significantly underestimated for new students, the freshmen."

"Freshman year is a period when young people are very vulnerable," says Mike Radcliffe, LCSW, with a private practice in Eagle Point. "They're out of the house for the first time, they may be drinking too much, not going to classes, they're homesick, or they're having some sort of emotional crisis."

"Students come into college with an expectation of freedom and getting to be their own adult and responsible to themselves, making their own choices about when to go to bed, what to eat," says Potratz. "You have social adjustment issues, the stress of trying to integrate and find a sense of belonging, big issues for somebody who's in a brand-new environment."

Young adults may also be more likely now than in the past to have a pre-existing mental health diagnosis when they start college. "Our society is getting is more and more complex and the challenges are getting greater," muses Radcliffe. "Mental health over the last 20 years has treated more behavioral problems, attention deficit disorder and other problems with medications and as those kids get older, they're more involved with the mental health system; you're going to see more people diagnosed."

According to a recent Columbia University study of 5,000 persons aged 18 to 25, nearly half of the young adults had experienced a psychiatric episode within the previous year.

"Nationally and certainly within Oregon, directors of counseling centers have seen an increase in the numbers of students coming into college with pre-existing conditions, and on medication for depression or anxiety or attention deficit disorder," says Potratz. For at-risk students, stress combined with disrupted sleeping patterns, alcohol and social isolation, can have harmful consequences and cause symptoms to either return or escalate.

Early warning signs of a student who needs help can include increased withdrawal, reduced social interaction, a change in academic performance, or a decline in personal hygiene. Sometimes students may eat too much, or not enough. Lack of sleep can impair decision-making, affect coping skills and cause depression.

Colleges and universities, SOU among them, are fully aware of their responsibility to students — it's all about risk assessment and response. Faculty, staff, residential life counselors and coaches are on the front line of student life, and are in touch with students on academic issues and concerns. "A major goal of the campus community is to be a responsive community," Potratz says. "There's a lot of educational outreach to faculty, staff and students about early warning signs, early intervention strategies, resources and how to connect students with the resources."

"Awareness efforts start even before the students get to campus," emphasizes Potratz. "We have health promotion services and prevention outreach for suicide prevention, sexual assault prevention, substance abuse prevention. We have voluntary mental health and alcohol screening days for students."

Disability services, academic advising, and the health center are available on campus and extend community-based resources like CommunityWorks' 779-HELP hotline and the Ashland Community Hospital. Other community-based resources available in Jackson County include psychologists and clinical social workers in private practice who accept sliding scale payments from those who do not have insurance, and the Jackson County Mental Health Program that provides services to those covered under the Oregon Health Plan.

"The most important thing to know is that there are resources specifically and intentionally here at Southern Oregon University to help students," stresses Potratz. "We want to help engage students with those resources. We really want to reduce the stigma of asking for help."

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