Mental illness in college is not a joke. In the past year alone, 60% of adults and 50% of those between the ages of 8 and 15 with mental illnesses did not receive treatment. This is astonishing in general, but also consider the fact that college students are living in high-stress places and their lives are complicated and busy. Mental illness rates among college students continues to increase. To know that about half of those who should seek treatment don’t receive treatment is a problem, and we need to understand why this happens. Why don't people take mental illnesses as seriously as they should?
Before I speak more on the subject of mental illness, I want to establish my position and my experience with it in order to give myself some credibility on the topic. As a chronic sufferer of anxiety, I have gone through the cycle of struggling with my anxiety and personally seeking treatment once the experience of college pushed me over the edge. Promoting awareness for mental illness, especially among college students, is something I have become passionate about in my first few months of college.
One thing I have noticed, as well as experienced, is the stigma associated with mental illnesses of all kinds. People often expect you to “change your attitude” or “get over yourself” and “move on.” What these people fail to understand are the causes of the illness itself. These conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are not called illnesses for no reason. These conditions are caused by a hormonal imbalance in your body that affects your brain in a way you often cannot control. “Getting over it” or “changing your attitude” is not a choice. A person cannot have control over their illness.
Another problem I have noticed among college students is a lack of support. I must admit that the support I see now, is much better than it has been in previous years. But much more still needs to be done. Can you think of a reason that someone may choose not to seek treatment? One very prevalent reason is personal embarrassment or shame. It is hard for people to admit that they need assistance, especially when we live in a world where people continue to tell us that we have all the "control". When it comes to mental illnesses, we normally don’t. Admitting that we have no control and that we need help from professionals is often met with disapproval or judgement from others, sometimes even parents or close friends, so people often push treatment aside to avoid this embarrassment.
Mental illness is not a joke. It is so prevalent among college-aged youth and is met with such a strong stigma that can intervene and prevent someone from getting the help that they need. We need to look at mental illnesses the same way we look at physical illnesses, as serious conditions that need professional help. Just taking a step towards acceptance and away from judgement can make a huge difference in the lives of other people. Don’t wait until a person is at their breaking point to step in. Support them in their decisions and guide them towards the helpful resources available to them, whether it be a school counseling center or an off-campus professional.
Sometimes all someone needs is a helping hand. Be the one to give it to them.
Lead Image Credit: Porsche Brosseau