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Why the Normalization of Mental Illness on Campus is Not Okay

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NCSU chapter.

During my few years on a college campus, I’ve determined there is one commonality between most students: mental illness.

As young adults living in a rapidly changing social environment, it’s no surprise that students feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. With the added pressure of academics, financial burdens and adjusting to a new environment, mental illness is prevalent among college students. As a group, we tend to normalize, and, in turn, popularize mental illnesses.

But while attempting to eliminate stigmas and spread awareness about the topic, we may be inadvertently sending and reiterating unhealthy messages about what it means to suffer from mental illness. Here are some reasons why the normalization of mental illness may do more harm than good:

1. Misinformation and Misdiagnoses

During discussions about mental health among students, we tend to make jokes about being depressed and suffering from other mental illnesses. While many of us do experience the gravity of mental illness, this culture fosters misinformation about mental illness.

Some students who claim to be depressed may simply be experiencing a bout of sadness, which can cause other students who have been diagnosed with mental illness may feel alienated from their peers. This also creates confusion between students, family members and professionals, who may all have a different perception of what “mental illness” truly is.

2. Missed Opportunities for Early Prevention and Intervention

One of the most concerning effects of this normalization is that it creates a culture of acceptance around mental illness. While spreading awareness about mental health is crucial to getting individuals the support and resources they need, this also means that fewer students reach out for help.

Believing mental illness is simply part of life or being a student is the biggest factor here. As a result, many students do not get the support they need, meaning many of us are suffering in silence and avoid engaging with early prevention and intervention resources.

3. Negative Impacts on Academics

Normalizing mental illness can also have a huge impact on your academics. When we discuss mental health as students, it tends to be discussed casually, often without any suggestions about accessing mental health resources or speaking to professionals.

This means that most students accept mental illness as “part of being a student”, downplaying its seriousness and sweeping it under the rug. Again, many students hesitate to seek help because they may believe it’s not important. This can negatively impact academic performance and also cause social and physical problems later down the road.

4. Reduced Access to Resources

When mental illness is normalized at college, fewer students utilize on- and off-campus resources. If student needs around mental health are not vocalized, campus faculty and departments may feel there is less demand for mental health resources. As a result, some colleges may choose to allocate resources in other areas, effectively limiting opportunities for students to seek help.

Ultimately, conversations around mental illness need to be initiated and vocalized on campus. Being open and honest with our peers is the key to reducing stigmas while also advocating for ourselves.

If you are struggling with mental health, reach out to your college’s counseling center. If you are in a crisis and need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. In the case of a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

Hi! My name is Grace and I'm a student at NC State majoring in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Professional Writing and a minor in Biological Sciences. I am also affiliated with the Technician on campus.