Breaking the stigma: Seeking support amid uncertainty and stress


Stress and uncertainty plague students in the first weeks of the fall 2022 semester.

As the first round of exams and projects rolls through classrooms all across campus, students must find a healthy balance between the stresses of school and other areas of their lives.

Iowa State University offers a variety of resources through its Student Counseling Services, which are free to all students.

Shelly McQueeney, the clinical director for Student Counseling Services, observes an “ebb and flow” of clients throughout the school year, with many students seeking support in the first weeks of the semester.

As returning students settle into their routines, they can utilize counseling services during highly stressful times of the year, such as midterms or final exams.

However, for freshmen and transfer students, the transition to college life, in general, can be a greater challenge. After their initial arrival on campus, several new students find themselves struggling to develop support systems and settle into the community.

“We see students that are coming in that are new to campus…that don’t really feel a strong connection, or they don’t know how to kind of find their place and their people and kind of get their grooves,” McQueeney said.

Laura Pedelty, a senior studying applied mathematics, has experienced this challenge firsthand. Pedelty transferred to Iowa State after attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for two years.

“It took me a little bit to make new friends in classes and have a group of friends outside of classes,” Pedelty said. “Especially coming in as a junior, I felt like most people by that time already have a cemented friend group.”

McQueeney said many of these social stresses seem to decrease as the semester unfolds.

However, other types of struggles may persist. Whether students choose to seek assistance from a mental health professional on campus or discover healthy coping strategies on their own, it is crucial that they find peace of mind while going through a difficult situation.

“Some anxiety is really good,” McQueeney said. “We want anxiety because it keeps us moving forward and keeps us safe. It keeps us moving down the path that we want to go. But when anxiety kind of spikes and stops us from doing the things that we need to do, that’s when reaching out for services is really important.”

Relying on his personal support system has allowed freshman Ryan Watts to make a smooth adjustment to college. In addition to studying statistics, Watts is a member of the men’s cross country and track and field programs at Iowa State.

“Being able to rely on the people on the team, whether it be the teammates or coaches, just being able to go and talk to them if I have any issues [has been helpful],” Watts said. “I like to try and talk out loud and make sure that I’m okay every step of the way.”

In response to a cultural shift that encourages people to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, Iowa State’s Student Counseling Services department has observed an increase in its number of clients.

“There is a strong push from academics all the way up to President Wintersteen, where her welcome letter to students was really focused on, ‘here are the resources to support your mental health,’ that was a clear indication to students that the university is concerned about students’ wellbeing, not just concerned that they’re going to walk out of here with a degree and get a great job,” McQueeney said.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Although Iowa State’s counseling services constantly work to reach students in need of assistance, they emphasize this particular month by facilitating specific activities, such as the Field of Memories exhibit that took place Sept. 9.

“[Field of Memories is] a visual kind of program where students are putting in flags [outside Parks Library] and writing on flags to remember people that they’ve lost or just maybe some hope or something that will capture somebody’s attention that might be struggling,” McQueeney said.

The counseling services department offers several resources to support students who may be concerned about their well-being or others. Additional information can be found on their website.