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Kathryn Woicicki: Supporting Yourself and Others

Kathryn Woicicki is a staff psychologist for Cowell Center Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Santa Clara. Kathryn did her undergraduate studies at UC Santa Cruz and her doctoral program at the Palo Alto University Stanford Psy. D Consortium. Her areas of specialty include self-acceptance, relationship challenges, anxiety, depression, multicultural issues and identity development. 


In this conversation, we dive into anxiety, depression and stress and how students can deal with the inevitable pressures of college life. Kathryn discusses different resources available and how students can help friends. 

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please tell someone who can help right away:

- Call 911 

- Call SCU campus safety (408-554-4444)

- Going to the nearest emergency room (Santa Clara Valley Medical Center)

- Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

- Text the Crisis Text Line by texting "start" to 741-741"


Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: What are the biggest mental health challenges at Santa Clara?


Kathryn Woicicki: The main things people come into the counseling center for are anxiety and depression. It’s important to note that if someone comes in reporting anxiety or depression, it doesn’t necessarily mean they meet criteria for a diagnosable disorder. It might be an experience of having anxiety related to a really big change that’s happened recently.


College is a huge change in someone's life. You come to this entirely new place and you have to recreate yourself again by getting yourself a new community, redefining your identity and figuring out what you want to do with your life. That experience leaves you vulnerable to anxiety and certain depressions like lack of motivation. This is an extremely stressful time in your life.


GC: How does a student know if they should seek support from CAPS?


KW: What we recommend is that if you notice your anxiety is getting in the way of your life, that’s when you should come in. If it’s not just test anxiety, but you feel like you don’t want to hang out with friends or go to classes, you should come in. Ideally you also have a support network that can help you identify those signs.


GC: I’ve heard that some stress can be good. How can you tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy stress?


KW: When we’re thinking about stress, it’s inevitable. The key is that you ideally want to experience moderate amounts of distress intermittently. That might be the stress of an exam you’re worried about. Or that might be the stress of being late to something. Brief periods of stress can be positive. If you’re really excited about moving into a new place, that can create stress. Or being in a new relationship, that can cause stress. One of the most stressful things a person can experience is marriage.

We need stress because it helps us to grow. If you’re facing a challenge that you’re not sure if you can overcome, once you do, you create a sense of mastery. That helps you to know that you can grow and expand. The issue becomes if your stress bothers you every day. If you’re stressed all the time, it compromises your physical and mental health and wears you down over time.


GC: In our culture, there seems to be a stigma about using psychological services, especially among men. What do you think about that stigma?


KW: Yeah, it’s a big one. It can be really hard to seek services. There’s this idea that we are supposed to be on top of it, be happy, and “turn that frown upside down.” The reality is that anxiety and sadness are universal human experiences. They’re just bound to happen.


The challenge becomes when we think something is wrong with us. Going to get help is admitting that something is wrong. But no one can be on top of it all the time. The stigma keeps us from realizing that it’s okay to be human. When it comes to men, it seems like that stigma is even more pronounced. You’re not supposed to talk about your emotions or express anxiety.


GC: What resources should students be aware of?


KW: There are a lot. There is individual therapy. If you’re wanting to talk to someone one on one, we offer 10 sessions per academic year, and the first 6 are free.


We also have several groups. I know a lot of times people shy away from groups, because it seems awkward. However, groups can be an incredibly healing experience. Here’s more information about groups:


Students can come in anytime between 9am-4pm if you are needing to talk to someone right away. If you need to talk to someone right away or you’re worried about a problem, just come in. We try to problem solve a little bit and go from there.


We also have triage which I don’t think people use very often. If you want to talk to a counselor and you’re wondering if you should come into CAPS, someone will get back to you in 24 hours and give you some tools to manage what’s going on.

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