Mental health is ‘not a flaw’

Anisa Jibrell – News Writer

The topic of mental health on college campuses has been pushed to the forefront of society led by the rise in school shootings within recent years and the death of popular figures like late, comedian Robin Williams.

Mental health professionals are encouraging students to learn to embrace the elephant in the room rather than to ignore it.

“It’s not a flaw,” said Denise Zack, a Prevention and Outreach Coordinator and certified life coach of counseling services, “and there’s nothing wrong with you. But it’s critically important that you seek the help that you need so that those symptoms don’t become problematic or result in some type of crisis.”

In 2011, the American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment —a nationwide survey of college students at 2- and 4-year institutions—discovered that roughly 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some point in college.

These staggering statistics are due to a number of factors combined.

“A lot of times the typical age of onset of a mental illness is around the time that someone would be going to college,” said Zack. “It’s also the first time they’re away from home, it’s the first time they’re considered an adult, and they’re managing things on their own for the very first time all the while…juggling a lot more than the college student 20 years ago had to juggle.”

Zack is working on skill development through creating resilience by encouraging help-seeking behaviors and connectedness among students.  She is an advisor for Active Minds, a group on campus that works to change the conversation surrounding mental illness and a national organization with chapters at many various universities across the country.

“Many times in the past before strategies and interventions, medications, and more formal layers of support were put in place for students with mental illness they weren’t even afforded an opportunity to go to college.”

Zack suggests it’s either because it’s diagnosed earlier or because there are a lot more chronic stressors people are experiencing during this time.

Often times, people unknowingly cling to trendy language that fuels stigma’s surrounding issues like mental health. Some consider it freedom of speech, others consider it selective ignorance.

“I think people should definitely be mindful of what kind of language they use, just because you can never know how someone is going to take it,” said marketing major, Tom Perry.

While the social climate of college might have the potential to aid in the marginalization of individuals suffering with these issues, mainstream media takes an opposite route.  It romanticizes mental illness through television shows like “The Following,” which features an attractive English professor with anti-personality disorder who satisfies his murder fantasies by luring in his pupils with his charm and has a cult of followers who obey his every whim.

“It’s always in movies and shows, but it’s never with a focus on prevention or treatment,” said Stephanie Braker, senior public health major. “If a character has a mental illness in a movie, they end up tragically hurt and that’s the end of it.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that every 40 seconds someone commits suicide. The most preventable cause of death takes 800,000 lives worldwide, annually.

Photo Credit: Active Minds

HEADER PHOTO: Left to right: Kellie Siciliano, Alyssa Korzon, Elle Higgins, and Luke Herzog.


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