Recovery Month Sheds Light on Health Issues
The “road to recovery” can be part of any personal journey, but some people hit this challenging stretch for the first time in college.
“Recovery,” according to Abby Myers, a licensed psychologist at the Georgia Tech Counseling Center, “refers to the process of effectively coping with mental health and substance use disorders.”
With 50 percent of college students experiencing "overwhelming anxiety," according to a 2012 American College Health Association assessment, many Tech students may be grappling with such issues and, it is hoped, be “effectively coping” and well on their way to recovery.
To educate the campus and celebrate those overcoming various types of challenges, September has been designated National Recovery Month. Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson has signed a proclamation supporting the month-long initiative, and several campus departments are offering workshops and other related events.
Getting back on track
For Lauren Spikes, a business administration major, high school was a breeze. After a year at Tech, when her academic performance was not up to her usual standard, she grew concerned.
“My grades weren’t reflecting my ability,” she said. “I tried things like tutoring and academic coaching, and nothing helped.” She also had trouble sleeping. Only after talking with her mom, who was diagnosed with adult ADD while Spikes was in high school, did she start to consider that she, too, may be struggling with a learning disability that was taking a toll on her mental health.
Spikes sought help and was diagnosed with adult ADD, as well as a cognitive distortion. She began taking medication and felt the mental benefits almost immediately. Within a year, she was able to get her academic life back on track. Four years after the start of her recovery, though, it’s still “an everyday thing.”
“You have to learn how to learn all over again,” she said. “And you learn how to identify things that are undermining your recovery and how to manage them.”
Breaking the stigma
College students nationwide are affected by mental health symptoms, many encountering them for the first time. The 2012 ACHA assessment found that 30 percent feel so depressed they have difficulty functioning, and 7 percent consider suicide.
In an attempt to cope with these issues, some turn to substance abuse: 31 percent report binge drinking during the last two weeks, and 15 percent report marijuana use in the last month.
"Even for those students who do not experience any of these symptoms or behaviors, they are impacted by the struggle of their family members, friends and colleagues who experience mental health and substance abuse issues," Myers said.
For those in an ongoing relationship with someone in any type of recovery, it can help to be educated about the specific issues with which their loved one struggles.
“Learn as much as you can about what’s going on, and encourage them to talk about it once they’re comfortable,” Spikes said. In her own experience, she wished more people had asked questions along the way. “The worst feeling in the world is to have these issues and feel like you have no one to go to or talk to about them.”
“Students can support others with mental health or substance abuse disorders by understanding the signs and symptoms of distress, expressing concern for a friend in an empathic and supportive manner, and recommending he or she seek support through the Counseling Center or other health clinic,” said Myers. “Open communication where you ask how you can be supportive of your loved one can give you specific direction.”
This month, the Counseling Center is providing a number of opportunities for the campus community to learn about issues and recovery.
On Thursday, Sept. 12, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to wear purple as part of Project Purple, a national initiative to break the stigma of addiction, bring awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and shed light on effective treatment practices.
Workshops will be held every Tuesday in Room 127 of the Clough Commons to discuss recovery and better coping mechanisms:
- Sept. 3: Mental Health 101
- Sept. 10: A Mind-Body Approach to Stress Reduction
- Sept. 17: How to Help a Friend in Distress
- Sept. 24: I Love Someone Who...Has an Addiction
On Tuesday,Sept. 24, guest speaker Mark Sterner will discuss a personal college experience with drunk driving at the Ferst Center at 7 p.m.
To learn more about recovery and services at the Counseling Center, visit www.counseling.gatech.edu.