Life can appear perfect in pictures but Story Sims admits the pursuit of perfection can lead to anything but happiness.
“I’ve always cared a lot about my grades. I used to be that kid – if it was below a 90 I failed. That was always really hard for me," said Sims. “I was such a perfectionist, anxiety overcame me all the time.”
She remembers the anxiety intensified into panic attacks and sleepless nights her freshman year at UT to the point her mother and sister noticed.
They encouraged her to reach out to the UT Student Counseling Center for help. An assessment and several sessions later, Sims was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. She learned coping skills and started taking a medication to help her manage the stress.
“Medicine isn’t always the answer. I have bad days and good days and talking and venting about it is sometimes the best outlet," she said.
Sims represents record numbers of college students in the U.S. who are seeking treatment for mental health problems.
Dr. Paul McAnear is the director of UT’s Student Counseling Center. He said UT is following the national trend.
Last year, the center provided mental health services to nearly 2,750 students. He expects that number to grow to 3,000 this year.
McAnear said this generation of college students doesn't necessarily have more mental health issues and pressures. The demands and expectations are different these days and young people are more aware and willing to ask for help.
“All of the pressures that we put onto students to get a college degree, go to graduate school, for some students it’s really powerful experience. For others, it feels like a lot of expectations they don’t feel like they can meet,” McAnear said.
The Counseling Center offers workshops on stress management and mindfulness, as well as group and one-on-one sessions. But McAnear adds with more students seeking help there can be a wait of up to 3 weeks for continued treatment.
“Campus mental health is not just a counseling center service issue. Creating a mentally health campus is something that we are all invested in doing,” McAnear said.
That’s where other programs and ministries at UT offer their support to students.
A house situated on Melrose Avenue on campus is home to the Presbyterian Ministry, UKirk. Minister Andy Morgan said students can find a path to spiritual and mental healing there.
“What we hope to be is a resource for them, to listen, to help them answer questions and maybe help them discern, if there are emotional and mental issues, how they can take that next step to get help,” Morgan said.
Inside UKirk is the UPerk coffee shop where students are welcome to study and socialize with no agenda.
“Our ethos is that we hope to be a place where people can just bring their honest selves and that honest self will just be honored here," he said.
Story Sims credits the support she found on campus with helping her through the mental challenges she faced at UT. Now, she is just days from graduation and more than prepared for her next chapter.
“I have grown into this senior who knows what I want to do. I’m not worried about the future. I’ve put it all in God’s hands and I’m just ready to see what happens.”