Mental health discussion in America: Is it more relevant today?

OSWEGO, N.Y. — As the new semester arrives and classes start again, students and professionals are weighing in on the state of students’ mental health and why it is the way it is.

Sophomore Liz Adamkoski speaks from experience talking about the college population’s mental health. Adamkoski has attended therapy and is medicated for depression and anxiety. She believes the conversation about mental health is far more prevalent today. 

“My friend goes to Castleton University in Vermont and he’s given a week off every five weeks,” she said. “Colleges are recognizing how stressful the college experience can be.”

Adamkoski says she believes teens and young adults seek out therapy more today, but it’s still not enough. She also cited a number of other unhealthy outlets that young adults are using in lieu of therapy.

“It seems like people have found more things to cope with like social media and substance abuse,” she said.

Adamkoski also believes that anxiety is a lot more prevalent in today’s world and that the world’s current trajectory — among other things — is to blame. 

“Social media plays a big part in that anxiety,” she said, “as it is a lot easier to receive negative information.”

Rebecca Migenes is an independent clinical social worker specializing in working with patients in their teens and early 20s and has 35 years of experience in the field. Migenes’ experience in the young adult mental health field gives her a unique take on the subject.

Migenes says that she’s seen more young adults come to her for therapy, citing COVID as a definite contributor as well as therapy becoming less stigmatized. 

“I think it’s definitely become more normalized,” she said. “I definitely think it used to be more stigmatized but it’s more common to see adolescents and young adults come in to work on themselves.”

Migenes also cites the growing acceptance of things like sexual preference and differing gender identity as a factor in the growing openness of the mental health discussion. 

“The acceptance of differences is much bigger than it was five years ago, 10 years ago, certainly 20 years ago,” she said. “People in those communities are more comfortable reaching out for help now because they’re more accepted now.”

Even outside the scope of gender identity and sexual preference, younger people are more likely to go to therapy, according to Migenes. 

“People used to think that kids don’t want to be different,” she said, “that kids just want to fit in, but it’s becoming more common to go to therapy and talk about those issues so they’ll more readily go.”

Migenes said that COVID-related issues were a big reason for new clients coming in for therapy, but Migenes noticed that young adults’ attitudes about coming to therapy have changed as well. 

“I think young adults seem to be clearer on what their values are now more than they used to,” she said, “They do struggle with not acceptance, but more so finding their people, especially in high school.”

Another common issue was increased societal pressure on young adults today. 

“When you’re in high school, in college, there’s a lot of people asking what you want to major in or what you want to do in life and not everyone knows that at age 18,” Migenes said, recalling a similar experience from one of her sons coming home from his first day of eighth grade. 

“He was freaking out,” she said. “ Because he said his classes that year would affect his classes in high school, then college, then the rest of his life. The pressure just comes a lot earlier for this generation compared to mine.”

SUNY Oswego recognizes the increased demand for therapy and help for other mental health-related issues. The counseling center at Mary Walker Health Center is open for scheduled therapy appointments that can be booked over the phone, as well as for crisis sessions for students who require immediate help. As of now, on-campus counseling services at Mary Walker have a waiting list of nearly two weeks for new patient appointments. Staff members at Mary Walker were unavailable for comment for this story.

In addition, Counseling Services hosts a program called “Let’s Talk” for students to drop in and have an informal conversation with a counselor about whatever they may need to discuss.

Mary Walker Health Center can be reached at 315-312-4416 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.