College of Natural Sciences students struggle with mental health, college strives to increase awareness

Joelle DiPaolo, News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the May 3, 2022 flipbook.

Maya Flores, an environmental science and geology freshman, said she took five STEM courses this semester. She said she wishes her major allowed for more elective classes as a break from juggling all of her difficult STEM courses.

“It’s not a lot of balance,” Flores said. “Honestly, I don’t do anything fun. … There are a lot of days where it’s harder rather than easier.” 

Flores’ struggles come amid increasing efforts by the College of Natural Sciences to increase mental health visibility. On March 25, the college launched a new website that compiles mental health resources for students and faculty, including the Counseling and Mental Health Center and crisis line. Last fall, the college started a mental health working group, a group of students, faculty and staff that meet to discuss how to improve mental health awareness and support  

Anneke Chy, assistant dean for advising and student support, said the working group’s two initial priorities are engaging student organizations and increasing peer support opportunities. 

John Wallingford, a molecular biosciences professor, said the new website shows an increasing awareness of the importance of mental health that he wished he had seen when he was a student.  

“Having (these resources) in the College of Natural Sciences will reduce the energy barrier for people to reach out,” Wallingford said. “I think a student might be more willing to talk to someone at the college level than at the university level because it seems a little bit more intimate.” 

At this time, Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science is administering their annual survey, which asks CNS students questions regarding their college experience, like the extent to which they experienced stress, anxiety and perfectionism.

Esteban Elias, an undeclared student in CNS, said the difficulty of classes like chemistry were detrimental to his mental health. Elias was homeschooled in high school, so coming to the University was a big change. He said he wished the college had support groups for students like himself to help them transition to the University. 

“Anxiety was through the roof,” Elias said. “Depression came and hit me like a homerun, just came up behind me and started beating the heck out of me.” 

Computational biology freshman Annie Fu said she noticed most students took their mental health into their own hands by reaching out to outside therapists or counselors instead of looking to faculty and staff for support. She said from her experience, some professors could do more to support students’ mental health. 

“That’s a huge disconnect,” Fu said. “I feel like professors should offer at least a space in their office hours or a time through email and be like, ‘Hey, if you have any issues, just feel free to email me and I will do my best to accommodate you.’” 

Wallingford said that because of his own struggles with mental health, he can relate to students. If professors learned more about students’ mental health and how to address it, he said that professors would be able to properly address mental health concerns. 

“If you’ve never struggled with depression or anxiety, it’s really hard to know what it’s all about,” Wallingford said. “Getting some education about what that really means and what it really feels like for that person is really important because it doesn’t mean you just give him a pass.”