MU Student Health Center aims to reduce stress

Monday, September 20, 2010 | 1:16 p.m. CDT; updated 1:50 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 20, 2010

COLUMBIA -- Tests, papers, procrastination and late-night Taco Bell runs can take a toll on the health of college students.

To combat such notorious causes of stress, the MU Student Health Center is strengthening its emphasis on mental health this year, said Dr. Susan Even, director of the center.

“Mental health issues have been a primary contributor to student health problems,” she said. “We have really looked at how we can expand our stress management strategies.”

Even said the center recently added a psychologist to the mental health staff and is slowly introducing depression screenings to students who come in for routine medical visits.

In addition to several stress-management classes it offers, the center added a new program, Heart Rate Variability biofeedback, where a student is hooked up to a computer that shows how thoughts and emotions affect the heart and nervous system. According to the center’s website, the purpose of biofeedback is to help a student learn how to “achieve nervous system balance” and “intentionally shift to a positive emotional state.”

The center also offers yoga and stress-reduction courses, as well as Stressbusters, a program where student volunteers give free five-minute backrubs and provide health information to other students.

With the H1N1 pandemic behind it, the center has actually seen a decrease in student appointments this year, despite record enrollment, Even said.

“In general, we’re prepared to address the kinds of things we typically see in students,” she said.

She cites athletic injuries, allergies, respiratory infections and adjusting to a new environment as common reasons students come to the center but said a large number of the physical symptoms students complain of are stress-related.

In the past, students' needs often exceed the staff’s ability to see them, Even said. She is confident that the center is now better equipped to support students.

The center is working with other MU health and medical organizations to adopt a more integrated approach to provide better support to students, Even said.

“We want to be tuned into all other units that have health as part of their mission,” she said. “We want to be sure we all work together.”

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