Counseling offices at Triangle universities are trying to cope with students’ concerns and anxieties in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville and more heated and polarized rhetoric in national politics.
UNC’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department has seen an increase in students who come to the center who want to talk about their anxiety, said Allen Hamrick O’Barr, director of the center. Students do not initially mention Charlottesville or North Korea or other news events when they approach the center, but “as you go through it with individuals, Charlottesville comes up,” O’Barr said. Charlottesville “may have tipped people” to come to the counseling center, even if those events are not the first thing they mention, he said.
The trend toward more anxious students has been long-term, he said. The CAPS program has seen an increase in students coming to the center for the past 10 years, an increase of 3 to 10 percent each year, O’Barr said. With the internet, social media and instant communication “it’s a faster world than it was in the 1980s,” and it’s difficult to discern whether that technology is “adding to the inflammation of what is happening locally and globally,” or whether it is making us more informed, he said.
“The hard part for students and the staff is, How do you take that increased energy and funnel it towards the good,” O’Barr said. “That’s what we’re trying to do as a staff.”
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UNC’s office of Counseling and Psychological Services posted a statement on its website acknowledging Charlottesville’s effect on students.
“Our students are being impacted daily by not just the barrage of media coverage regarding the increased acts of hateful speech and violence ...” the statement read. “We call on all students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni to take an active stance towards creating and maintaining a Carolina campus that is welcoming, safe, and supportive of our community members of color and other marginalized members. Their health and success, as well as the campus’ as a whole, is dependent on it,” the statement reads.
At N.C. Central University, students are concerned about what they read and see in the news, but are not coming to the school’s counseling center specifically to speak about the news, said Carolyn D. Moore, counseling director. “What we hear from our students that come in or students we might encounter when we’re doing an outreach or even sitting in the cafe, we’ve picked up more anger than anxiety,” Moore said.
That anger stems from “the amount of hatred and bigotry” they are hearing, Moore said. In light of those events, students have expressed concerns about their personal safety, she said.
“There was some concern about our student who was arrested last week when they brought the statue down… but again it was more feeling frustrated and angry, rather than anxious,” Moore said. The school’s office of Spiritual Development and Dialogue held a moment of silence last week for the victims of Charlottesville, Moore said.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has studied stress in American and its impact on public health since 2007. In a February 2017 report the association reported that two-thirds of Americans surveyed reported they were stressed about the future of the country, including Democrats and Republicans. In “Stress in America: Coping with Change,” the APA reported, “More than half of Americans (57 percent) say the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, and nearly half (49 percent) say the same about the outcome of the election, according to an APA poll conducted in January.”
People who responded to the APA survey also cited acts of terrorism and police violence toward minorities as reasons for higher stress levels.
Some writers, like Neil Baron of The Hill, coined the phrase “post-election stress disorder” to describe symptoms such as lost sleep and headaches brought on by the tumultuous 2016 election.
Moore recommends that students or anyone who feels overwhelmed by the news to take a break. “Give yourself a chance to do something else and give yourself a chance to experience something else,” Moore said. “If there is something you feel you can do to give yourself a feeling of control, then do it.”