|PHOTO COURTESY OF SHELLY FULKS
By Shelly Fulks
College is crammed full of deadlines, to-do lists and late nights, which often leaves students feeling stressed and anxious. Local animal shelters are increasingly crowded and in need of volunteers. There is a single solution that combats both issues.
“There are continuing studies that show the younger generations have less and less social time and less social interaction, so they don’t negotiate conflict very well. That is what creates a lot of their anxieties,” said Richard Yoakum, the director of counseling services and wellness programs at Samford.
Nationally, college students are being diagnosed at higher rates for various mental health conditions, with the largest increases in anxiety, depression and panic attacks. These conditions have negative effects on students’ lives, including their academic success.
Samford offers on-campus resources, including counseling and curated lists of iPhone applications, available to help students manage these conditions. Beyond utilizing campus counseling services, students should also consider volunteer work.
“Interaction and volunteering can work as a healthy distraction as well as enrich their social skills,” said Yoakum.
Local shelters need volunteers to walk, groom and socialize the animals, as well as work adoption and fundraising events. Students can also help with website development, social media managing, event planning and advertising.
As the state chair of the Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation and a Samford communication studies professor, Rhonda Parker described the value of students volunteering with animals.
“Researchers have examined the influence of interacting with animals upon various aspects of college students’ lives,” she said. “Overwhelmingly, the results are positive.”
Spending time with animals reduces stress and improves mood. While adopting and rescuing are great options, for students it may be impossible due to housing restrictions.
“Students who volunteer at shelters report feeling their work is meaningful and mutually beneficial. They get positive effects from working with animals, and the lives of animals are improved via student efforts. It’s a win-win,” she said.