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Feb 13 2017
by Amanda Morrison

The College Student's Guide to Activism: Mental Health

By Amanda Morrison - Feb 13 2017
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"One person attempts suicide every 38 seconds."

This chilling statement from Emory University reflects the dire mental health crisis that the United States faces today. Even though one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year, the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and disorders still reach far and wide. College students are especially prone to struggling with a mental illness. College is a time when the majority of students leave home for the first time and have to acclimate to a new environment without the help of the friends and family they depended on for 18 years. The anxiety that often comes with moving away from home plays a major role in college depression and suicide rates, which is probably why suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. With these sad statistics in mind, it's important for college students to have access to clubs and resources that allow them to become active in the cause for stronger mental health and a decreased stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

There are numerous on-campus organizations that allow students to raise awareness towards mental illnesses and provide support to those struggling with mental health. Unfortunately, many students find it hard to open up about their mental state if they are struggling with depression, anxiety or another mental illness. The stigma towards mental illness stunts conversation, but if more people become active and involved in this cause, then we could decimate the stigma. Thus, Fresh U has compiled a list of three of the best organizations on college campuses that support mental health awareness.

Psychology Club

Numerous colleges across the nation offer this club to students in order to understand more about the mind and mental health. While psychology is a major focus of the club's activism, understanding the brain and the science behind certain mental processes allows students to better understand what might be happening in their minds or the minds of others. Check out your college or university's website to see if there's a Psychology Club on campus you can join.

Mental Health Counseling

Almost every institution of higher education in the United States offers a counseling center for their students. If you are in need of therapy, or just want to have a conversation about mental health with a certified professional, check your school's website for the resources you have access to on campus. Counseling sessions at your university are most likely offered for free.

Mental Health Peer Education Program

This insightful, engaging program at San Diego State University "offers students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience working in the mental health field with an emphasis on valuing and respecting diversity among individuals." By conversing with others and getting to know them, the peer educators are able to equip fellow students with the resources they need to be mentally healthy. This student-to-student contact promotes encouragement and empowerment through education.

While the aforementioned club opportunities are campus-specific, the following organizations either offer options to join a local chapter, create a chapter or join the conversation about mental health and wellness on a national scale.

Active Minds

Active Minds serves to incite conversation about mental health issues on college campuses. Their website states that their "chapters are changing the way students address mental health and giving a voice to this important issue," by providing information and resources in order to decrease the negative attitudes towards mental illnesses. There are 442 Active Minds chapters across the globe, so check here to see if your school already has a chapter you can join. If they don't, then you can start your own!

JED Foundation

The JED Foundation serves to equip students and faculties at colleges with support to navigate emotional stress to reduce the risks of substance abuse and suicide. Even though 156 colleges have JED campuses, more than 3,000 colleges and universities have used JED materials to become more informed about mental health struggles or fight mental health stigmas.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

The National Alliance on Mental Illness serves to better the lives of those living with mental illnesses and support those struggling with mental health problems by pairing them to people to talk to and connect with. This national organization has satellite programs on college campuses that aim to support the 1 in 5 college students who deal with mental health problems. Through this on-campus club, students can connect with their peers as they share common experiences and advice to support one another. Find out if your campus has a NAMI chapter here.

To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA)

To Write Love on Her Arms, or TWLOHA, is a non-profit movement dedicated to raising awareness towards depression and suicide and offering support and encouragement to those who struggle with mental illnesses. Although TWLOHA is a national organization, there are UChapters of this non-profit on college campuses across the nation  or you can start your own here. If you're interested in learning more about To Write Love on Her Arms, you can visit their website; check out this book by their founder, Jamie Tworkowski; or watch the following videos about their mission.

Finally, Fresh U caught up with three college students involved in supporting mental health causes on their campuses across the nation and asked them why supporting mental health awareness in college is important. Their responses are as follows:

Aneva Jefferson — freshman at University of Missouri, Kansas City — Psychology Club member:

  • "Getting involved in mental health activism is crucial during college. Suicide is one of the ten leading causes of death in the U.S., and is the third leading cause of death among college age students. We are at a transitional time in our lives where we've never really been this alone and on our own before, which can introduce or intensify depression or anxiety. The stigma attached to mental illness is the seed that leads to suicide, and through activism to end that stigma, college students can feel more comfortable reaching out and asking for help."

Kami Baker — freshman at University of Nebraska, Omaha — NAMI Club member:

  • "I personally have anxiety and seasonal depression so I've always been passionate about mental health awareness. I think it's really important for college students to practice activism and learn more about mental illness because it affects 1 in 5 people. College is a very stressful time and it's also where we learn our health habits for the rest of our lives. Mental health is just as important as physical health (if not more) and our mindfulness of it needs to begin early in life."

Sarah Cohen  senior at Temple University  Active Minds TU Chapter founder:

  • "I think it's important for college students to be aware of all issues surrounding mental health (stigma, getting help, etc.) because we are at one of the most vulnerable ages. College students must deal with moving away from home for the first time, while also dealing with social (making new friends), academic (harder classes), and professional (working throughout college, figuring out internships and future career options) demands. It's a time when there's a lot of pressure, and many mental disorders start showing symptoms in late adolescence into early 20s. College students need to know that it's okay to have mental health problems, and that it's okay to get help. Statistics show that college-aged people are at considerably higher risk for suffering from mental illness, so awareness is so important to ensure that those people get help."

It's evident through all of these local and national examples of mental health organizations that ending the stigma towards mental illness is an increasing priority. Because so many college students are affected by depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, it's important to have more conversations about what we can do to encourage those who struggle with these illnesses. It is also important to stand up and support our peers by becoming active in this cause, because people need other people.

If you feel hopeless and need immediate help, please know you are not alone. You can text the Crisis Text Line by sending 'TWT' to 741741, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You matter.

Read the rest of Fresh U's series on college activism below:

Lead Image Credit: Flikr Creative Commons

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Amanda Morrison - Temple University

Amanda Morrison is a freshman at Temple University studying Global Studies and Strategic Communication with minors in Community Development and Spanish. Her favorite past activities include being a nationally ranked debater and inspecting cocoa beans in Tanzania. Amanda loves reading, writing and eating Chick-fil-A. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @manders051.

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