The Student Wellness Project hosted a forum Sunday afternoon to discuss how students can reduce the amount of stress on themselves and their peers.
While most attendees seemed to agree that Columbia provides resources for students struggling with stress and depression, there was a general sense that Columbia needs to change how students approach and think about emotional wellness.
With the suicides of Columbia College first-year Martha Corey-Ochoa this year and junior Tina Bu last year, students are working to create more discussions about the culture of stress at Columbia and how students can provide support for each other.
Zak Plautz-Posewitz, CC ’15 and coordinator for external affairs at SWP, said that Dean of Community Development and Multicultural Affairs Terry Martinez contacted him about hosting a forum to discuss student wellness.
Plautz-Posewitz said that because many Columbia students think they should be stressed, they are reluctant to question the campus’ high-pressure environment.
“It’s so easy to feel helpless when you feel like you are supposed to be experiencing stress,” he said.
Speakers at the forum included social worker Aileen Hoffman, Assistant Dean for Community Development and Residential Programs Cristen Kromm, Associate Director for Outreach at Counseling and Psychiatric Services Anne Goldstein, and students active in the Student Wellness Project, as well as other wellness-related groups on campus.
Hoffman started the meeting by discussing her own personal experiences with stress and grief, mentioning the tragic loss of a family member in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the loss of another family member to suicide. She discussed the different aspects of life that are stressful and the importance of creating a community support network to prevent stress, depression, and suicide.
“It’s really stressful to be in college,” she said. “You are supposed to be stressed.”
Hoffman led an exercise with the students, asking someone with a “strong back” and another student to come up to the front of the room. The strong-backed person was told to hold out her arms straight in front of her chest, while the other girl was asked to place a heavy book on her arms, each with a stressful topic name, such as grades, jobs, and relationships.
“You guys are holding some seriously heavy books,” Hoffman said to the group when the exercise was over.
Toward the end of the forum, the audience of about 22 students was split into three groups to discuss questions about mental health and wellness on campus. Subjects of discussion included the importance of keeping grades in perspective, not over-committing to activities, taking four classes per semester rather than five or six, taking away the stigma from using psychological resources on campus, and offering help to people who say they do not want help.
Goldstein said that while Columbia Counseling and Psychological Services holds many different kinds of events for students, she prefers events that students coordinate and organize themselves.
“I really enjoy talking with students about promoting a sense of community,” she said. “Student-sponsored events bring out more people and are more successful.”
Molly Brachfeld, CC ’15, said that she got involved with the Student Wellness Project because she was unhappy with the way that the Columbia community approaches stress.
“I’m trying to be more proactive about changing the things I don’t like about the community,” she said, pointing out that a lot of work went into putting together the event in order to start this conversation about stress.