Gown & Town: Student health vital for success

11/16/2012 1:30 AM

11/17/2012 9:44 PM

As a full-time student, I often find myself faced with the responsibility of juggling a combination of fiscal woes, academic pressures and of course, social engagements.

Despite my careful attempt to keep this delicate balance intact, I regrettably admit a couple of things have inevitably slipped through my well-intentioned hands -- personal health being one of them. In the middle of a hectic workload, it can easily become an afterthought.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one struggling to keep these central aspects of my life in harmony. Around campus, I see students who also fall short when it comes to physical and mental wellness. Even unknowingly, they've compromised their health as a result of increased academic stress or other external factors.

Fortunately, Merced College students have a helping hand. Student health services, located in the student union, make it easy, accessible and affordable for students to better care for themselves.

A mandatory $17 health fee paid at the beginning of each semester offers all students access a variety of services. Benefits include personal counseling, over-the- counter medication, pregnancy testing and health education.

They also offer referrals to community resources for things like treatment of sex-ually transmitted infections, alcohol and drug counseling, domestic abuse support groups and low-cost clinics.

It's easy to tell when your physical health is failing. We're all too familiar with the dreaded sniffles or itch in the back of your throat signaling an imminent bout with the flu. However, finding ourselves in the heart of flu season it's important to note that overworking yourself can ensure you'll be quarantined for a few days nestling up to a box of tissues.

Aside from consequences for your mental health, the negative implications of stress can manifest themselves physically as well. Being super stressed out weakens your immune system and in turn makes you increasingly susceptible to illness.

So for students like myself, preventative care not only entails frequent hand washing and a massive intake of vitamin C, but vaccination as well.

Just a couple of weeks ago, free flu shots were offered to students courtesy of student health services. It also offers tuberculosis skin testing and blood pressure checks.

However, some aspects vital to maintaining an optimum state of well-being don't always hit us over the head. In the case of mental health, symptoms can be easy to overlook. In fact, one in five young people suffer from some form of diagnosable mental illness, yet more than two-thirds of young people fail to seek help for mental health problems.

According to a 2009 survey of students at two- and four-year institutions conducted by the American College Health Association, nearly 30 percent of college students reported feeling "so depressed that it was difficult to function." Studies also show that students battling depression are more likely to smoke, engage in unsafe sex, experience issues related to alcohol abuse and self-medicate with street drugs.

At student health services, enrolled students can seek help while sidestepping steep fees because access to personal counseling comes free of charge. They address a wide range of concerns, from depression, anxiety and self-esteem issues to stress and time management.

Though the services are only short-term (up to six sessions), they can place students on the path to mental wellness and locate places in the community where individuals can go to seek long-term treatment if necessary.

Particularly as a young person, life appears to be one grand balancing act. It's tough keeping all your ducks in a row, but making your health a priority can give you one less thing to worry about as you pursue an education.

Montse Reyes is a sophomore at Merced College majoring in sociology.

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