Mental health matters as much as physical health

While most people think of eating right or getting into shape when someone mentions a healthy lifestyle, good mental health is also a key.

“Mental health is important because it affects your performance in class, your relationships, work, even your weight,” said Dr. Carver Nebbe, staff psychiatrist at Thielen Student Health. “Ultimately it can impact your grades, whether you graduate and getting a job.”

The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates up to 25 percent of homeless people have an untreated mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a psychological disorder. Yet mental health care was not even covered by most insurance plans until a few years ago.

The most common mental illnesses are anxiety disorders, which affect 28.8 percent of people at some point in life, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Mood disorders, such as major depression and bipolar disorder, affect about 20.8 percent of people. Many more struggle with substance abuse or eating disorders.

The actual estimates for college students are much higher than for the general population — around 50 percent, according to Thielen Student Health’s website. Of the 28,000 students currently attending Iowa State, about 14,000 will experience a diagnosable mental illness at some point.

Because mental illness is often taboo, some people who have disorders might suffer in silence for years.

“College students sometimes feel there is something wrong with them or feel ‘weak’ or shameful about asking for help,” says Cariann Bergner, graduate student in counseling psychology. “But seeking out help is a really brave thing to do. College can definitely be a time of adjustment and stress, and having resources to assist with the journey through it can help ease some of that difficulty.”

Symptoms which are persistent, pervasive and distressing constitute a diagnosable disorder.

“Certainly for some issues, such as ADHD, medication has been shown to be the most effective form of treatment,” Nebbe said. “For other disorders like adjustment issues, therapy is the way to go. What is best depends a lot on the individual’s personality, situation and diagnosis. In general, it’s not a good idea to close off one or the other treatment modality completely.”

Some medications can take several months to produce noticeable effects, but for someone who is really struggling, that breathing room can make all the difference. Sometimes multiple treatments are needed to produce a lessening of symptoms, but mental health is too important to give up on.

The Thielen Student Health Center’s website advises calling 911 if someone you know poses an immediate risk to themselves or others. If you personally are considering suicide, you can call 1-800-830-7009 to reach a 24/7 crisis hotline.

For those seeking long-term treatment, or even just feeling over-stressed, Iowa State offers psychological counseling free to every student. It offers individual, group, and couples’ therapy. Iowa State also has a biofeedback center which is also available free of change after one short training session. Details and contact information can be found at

Thielen Student Health is also a great place to go to talk to doctors who have experience caring for psychological disorders in a college setting. You can also check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Iowa branch at