Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress

Why We Need to Take Mental Health Seriously

Most people in college have had a run-in with poor mental health, especially those of us chugging through college during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would know this better than anyone, because I was just discharged from an intensive outpatient treatment program for my anxiety and depression as a senior in college. 

That might be an overshare, but my therapist calls that “destigmatizing mental health,” so I’m fine with it. Mental health is something that should be talked about more openly and taken more seriously in our society, especially in college. 

Nearly one in five adults in America live with a mental illness, diagnosed or not (National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)). Additionally, just under half of the adolescent population in America has at least one mental illness, 22% of which have severe ones (NIMH). These numbers are staggering, yet the attitude around mental health is not an accepting one. I’ve had conversations with several of my peers that have been actively encouraged to not seek out therapy for fear of being viewed as “crazy.” I myself have grown up with the attitude that I should be able to control my emotions and thoughts, and that I didn’t need therapy.

Woman reading on windowsill with sunset in background Photo by Yuri Efremov from Unsplash

 

College is a particularly stressful time in most students’ lives, and this is reflected in national statistics surveying college students’ mental health. In a survey of college students living with mental illness, the top three reported mental illnesses were depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety (National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)). This doesn’t surprise me, given my own experience and what I see from the experiences of students around me. A heavy course load paired with extracurriculars and jobs can make life seem unbearable, which can lead to less sleep, anxiety about deadlines or group work, and other mental health concerns. This is not even addressing the social aspects of school and mental health, which bring their own concerns and struggles.

Students with mental illnesses are eligible for academic and living accommodations, but the NAMI survey indicated that a little over half of college students have not sought out accommodations (NAMI). The top reason for not seeking accommodations was reported to be “unaware that they qualified for and had a right to receive accommodations” (NAMI). I myself didn’t know that I qualified for academic accommodations until my therapist recommended I meet with Geneseo’s Office of Accessibility to discuss flexible deadlines as an accommodation to my depression and anxiety, particularly while I was in my intensive outpatient treatment. 

Most, if not all, colleges these days offer counseling services through their health centers, including Geneseo’s Lauderdale Health Center. But more often than not, students feel dissatisfied with the quality of services available to them, or they choose not to take advantage of these services because of stigma. The NAMI survey found that less than half of students living with a mental illness seek out mental health services through their schools, and 11% of those that did rated the quality of services as “poor” (NAMI).

Overall, I’m seeing that not only do students need to take mental health seriously, but so do college administrations, who have direct control over the financial and institutional support that campus mental health services receive. As students, we need to be demanding that our health needs are met by our colleges, and mental health is as important as our physical health.